Chef Pam Fanjoy shows us the power of transferable skills. Starting her career as a Clinical Social Worker, she took a leap into the culinary industry following her passion to become a chef. She took her values of community and connection and infused them as key ingredients in her dishes. As well as opening her own restaurant, Fanjoy; she has received the Rhyze Award for Women Entrepreneurs (2018) and taken the Chopped Canada Champion title (2016).
- Tell us what inspired you to take a new direction in your career and become a chef…
I began taking culinary classes part time simply for the joy of learning something new but that unexpectedly took a life of its own on after I began incorporating cooking into the therapy I was providing to teens and their families. At the same time, I was making fully prepared healthy freezer meals and catering private parties for my colleagues and office mates. Before I knew it I thought to myself if I was going to be making such a big investment in equipment and building my skills perhaps I should open a second business besides my private practice and so I did.
- What skills from your career helped you succeed as a chef?
I always chuckle when folks say that I’ve left social work because I really haven’t. Being a clinical social worker for over 25 years, running a private practice for 20 years and having opened an interdisciplinary Collaborative Law Practice Center in Toronto for 6 years is all about people, community and relationships. I’ve always been a caretaker and now I am doing that with food while also inspiring people to take care of one another using food or food events to create stronger connections that improve their own mental health, and the collective health of their communities.
- Tell us more about your culinary value’s…
Food is necessary for our physical health but it also has huge implications for our mental health, sense of overall well being and it shouldn’t be taken for granted. I grew up in a very poor family where food was often simply not available at home, let alone healthy nourishing food. For children, that kind of deprivation can have a profound impact on ones sense of basic security and self worth. No children should be without food and in fact, I believe we as adults have a responsibility to nourish children with education such as teach them how to cook, where their food comes from, the social skills to eat with others, to communicate well with others, contribute to their family and community. All of those skills can be taught using food simply as a medium and that is what I do in my Jr. Chef Program for youth 9-18 years old.
I am also very committed to reducing food waste. We can’t take food, or our farmers who grow it, for granted. It’s disrespectful to do so.
I also believe “you touch it, you own it, you finish it.” One of my culinary instructors taught us that and its such a simple message, not always easy to do because sometimes in life things get messy in the middle. It’s hard to stick to it when something is challenging, like learning a new skill like cooking in mid life was for me. But you finish it and stick with it until the skill is mastered. Mistakes in the kitchen, as in life, are ok….but learn something and grow because of it.
- How would you describe the experience of dining in your restaurant?
I consider the experience here to be one where you can come as you are and enjoy an authentic ‘rural Canadiana cuisine’ in a relaxed and rustic atmosphere that feels like you’ve come home to family that you want to spend the evening with. It’s a small 40 seat restaurant in the heart of Hillsburgh, 45 minutes west of Toronto in the rolling hills of Headwaters where beautiful hiking, biking and horse country provide a lovely day trip for those wanting to escape the city life. The magic happens really because of our friendly service and my ability to help people who are dining here connect with one another. The stranger that is sitting at the next table likely wont be a stranger by the time you. My favourite moments are when we seat someone at one of our communal community tables and they look almost scared but by the end of their meal they are laughing with a new comrade and exchanging stories, healthier for it because of the human connection they’ve made because of coming to dine here at Fan/Joy. Same is true when we cater, host private or corporate events here at the restaurant or when we participate in community events such as Ribfest or the Erin Fall Fair.
- Tell us a few of the challenges you faced when opening your own venue and how you overcame them….
I had no idea what I didn’t know when I took the chance and decided to buy a building to house my new restaurant and country marketplace. There have been many challenges during the first three years including financing the initial start up costs of both renovations and simply getting the word out that we exist in this small remote rural community. You have to have the capitol behind you to survive cash flow struggles the first couple years until you can determine what will make a rural restaurant both service your locals but also become a destination restaurant so you have enough customers to survive.
Then there is always the day to day challenges of finding good staff, being able to be a carpenter, plumber, drywall specialist, mechanic, equipment fixer and all the while making sure the meals are delivered to your customers always using the best ingredients, highest quality and consistent standards you can put on the plate.
- Describe your signature dish….
I always find this question difficult because I’m still constantly learning and don’t feel that I have one signature dish. Many people think its my Authentic Butter Chicken because it likely won me the title of Chopped Canada Champion in 2016 when I prepared what normally takes me two days to make in just 30 minutes as my entrée.
I am really interested these days in cooking with live fire and South American BBQ in particular after returning to many of my favourite moments when I had a home in Colombia and traveled extensively throughout Argentina, Peru and Patagonia. This summer, FanJoy will be focusing on creating an outdoor kitchen with new patios where the community can gather, eat well and make new connections with one another over fresh, healthy, locally sourced food.
- What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
Follow your heart and passion. Don’t worry what other people think and keep it simple. Start small and build from there. ‘Build the customers, don’t chase the sale’ one of my culinary mentors told me early on and another advised “Keep the bar high.” Those were wise words of advise that I’ve always remembered when times in this restaurant business have been hardest and in fact, they are written on my kitchen wall so I’ll never forget where I started and the grit it takes to build a business. I would also say to aspiring chefs, be proud of your accomplishments. There’s always more to achieve and many who believe you are ‘only as good as your last dish’ but that’s a lie. You are more than your restaurant, more than a chef. Be yourself first and let that come out in as you develop your own style and restaurant. Take advise, learn from others who’ve been there before and made mistakes but always carve your own path.