A collection of recipes and photographs shining a spotlight on the Foothills will hit kitchen counters this fall in support of the Okotoks Food Bank.
The cookbook, which includes a compilation of recipes collected by area chefs as well as community members, was set in motion last fall as a way to honour 35 years of service by the food bank in 2020. The books sell for $40 each, and will serve as a fundraiser for the organization this year, which executive director Pamela McLean said will be important during the COVID pandemic, which has limited traditional fundraising events.
After seeing the first hard copy in-person Oct. 29, she can’t contain her excitement over seeing the project come to fruition.
“It’s so very real to us now, we’re so close to having this in peoples’ hands,” said McLean. “I knew we were working on something special, but to see it on the table is like, ‘Wow, this is gorgeous.’”
The cookbook initiative began coming together in summer 2019, when project chairperson Donna Large and McLean starting discussing the possibility. By September, a committee had formed and the food bank reached out to the community to collect recipes late in the fall.
Other committee members included Darren Nixon of Divine Cooking, Michelle and Jarod Traxel of Little Fast + Fresh, Sherry Lindenback of 94 Take the Cake and Carolyn Mercier, with photography by Chris Large and Brent Calver, and production and editing by Derrick Birkmann of Converge Studios. The book is being printed at West Canadian Digital Imaging in Calgary.
“We wanted to do things as local as we could,” said McLean.
The committee members met in-person until the end of March, when COVID-19 took their collaboration online and they shared ideas and edits over Zoom for months.
McLean said the pandemic was the only major hurdle to jump.
“I will count my blessings, there have been no other major hiccups, largely because of the professionalism of the committee members, right from Donna Large, our chairperson of the entire committee – she cracked a pretty strong whip,” she said.
The project took many long hours and volunteers worked some late nights to bring it all together remotely, she said.
It became a beacon of hope during the uncertainty surrounding COVID.
“Working on this project has been what’s put gas in my personal tank during this whole pandemic, with the worry and concern,” said McLean. “Working with this team on this particular project has just been quite a shining light of joy and happiness during a really bleak year.”
Nixon said he was honoured to be approached last year and asked to join the team.
“I know I’ve been in the community for a long time and kind of involved on a food level, and this was a very honourable thing to be asked to be a part of it,” said Nixon.
He said the group began jotting down ideas a year ago to come up with a book that would be representative of the community as a whole, and that’s why it includes local producers, chefs and residents.
Once all the recipes had been accumulated, committee members began sorting through to create a balanced collection and develop categories for the book, he said. From there, recipes that made the final cut were divvied up between members to be tested in their own kitchens.
“Each of us got 12 to 15 recipes to test and from there, once we had it down to the recipes that tested well, that’s when we were at the point we were able to get together in-person a little bit,” said Nixon.
That’s when production and photography began to put the final touches on the book, he said.
He said throughout the process everyone brought something unique to the table, whether staging food or finding ways to showcase it visually, or providing a host of recipes.
“Each person on the committee kind of had their own strengths to bring to the whole thing,” said Nixon. “I can’t really say what my strength was other than I’m a chef and a foodie, so I was involved on that level. I don’t really have any superpowers or anything like some of the other people.”
By the time it was finished, he said the cookbook had become a much bigger undertaking than anyone had anticipated one year ago, when it seemed like an easy enough project to take on.
“Because of the people involved and how precise and motivated and enthusiastic they were, the whole committee ended up kind of upping the game,” said Nixon. “We could see how amazing it was coming out as, and we all kind of kept on trying harder. We kept on upping the ante and it just really grew.”
He said he can’t wait to see a hard copy of the book, which aims to please both foodies and every-day home cooks.
There are also little touches highlighting the Foothills community, said McLean. Photos of the landscape, the Big Rock, and other local landmarks are scattered through the pages as well.
“We were trying to highlight the entire bounty of the Foothills, so it’s not just food in the pictures,” she said. “That very much was deliberately done to remind people of how gorgeous a little piece of the country we live in, that we are so fortunate to live in, actually.”
Pre-orders of the book can be made at www.okotoksfbcookbook.ca, and copies will be available for pick-up at the Okotoks Food Bank, Little Fast + Fresh, 94 Take the Cake and Fountain Tire in Okotoks. In addition, some food bank volunteers have offered to deliver within the Foothills region and committee member Carolyn Mercier, who now lives in Calgary, will deliver in the city.
For those who live outside the region, a $15 shipping fee will apply.
By mid-November, a digital copy will also be available for people to purchase and download, she said.
“Some people like to have their iPad in their kitchen rather than a real book, so that option is going to be available as well,” said McLean.