#SlowtheForkDown: top advice from a (former) top chef, whose now happier mucking about in the dirt

When they flew in 800 avocadoes from Mexico for the television commercial, to make sure they had one absolutely perfect fruit, Jenna Dashney knew that the money she was making wasn’t going to make this sit right. “You couldn’t even give them away to the crew afterwards, because they were constantly being fed by a craft truck.”

The free-ranging pastry chef and co-owner of The Foodlovers, a custom catering operation with her partner Maxim Ridorossi, Dashney has plied her trade into some amazing gigs in exotic locations – Antarctica, Alaska, Japan, the Great Bear Rainforest, Quadra Island, even food-dressing the set of a television drama series set in a restaurant. After almost 20 years gigging around the world, she began to feel a yearning to slow things down enough to set down roots.

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“Before Max and I met one another, we were both in the same pattern where work shaped our lives. Every move I made was about work. It was very exciting. It took me great places. But it was seasonal and so short, so we said, let’s just stop moving for a while and see what that feels like. See what other energy that’s going to bring back to our lives.”

She and Max had spent a couple of years out of Pemberton – at North Arm Farm, and later at the Pemberton Vineyard. The Valley kept calling them back. “We took on some projects because we were looking for work where we could work together and live together. But this is where we were the happiest. We asked ourselves, if we’re not driven by financial need or by ego, what choices do we make for us right now? What are our priorities?”

The answer was: living space, gardening space, quiet time. Time.

“I wanted to spend more time making food, than working to try to buy food, which is a really funny thing when you’re a chef. In my late 20s and early 30s working long crazy hours in high-end fine dining restaurants, I had the worst diet. There was no self-care. All your energy is going into pleasing others and feeding others.”

Now, they rent a space up the Meadows, where they grow food and raise chickens for food and fun. (Her chickens, the mini-poopers, just took-over the Wellness Almanac’s instagram account for a week.)

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Jenna pulls shifts at the Blackbird Bakery, caters for a local family, helps out Jon Ferris’ Collective Kitchen catering operation during its busy summer wedding season, and has space to breathe and make wellness a priority. Max spent 6 months working in the meat department at the grocery store, so he could learn how to butcher a whole cow, and is now working at Napa (RND Industrial) – a job he asked for because every time he went in to the store to pick up parts, it seemed like everyone was having such an awesome time.

“There are a lot of things with the restaurant business that are kind of disheartening,” she says. “The margins are so hard to make work. If you want to do things with integrity and really believe in your product, it’s tough. I did get very disillusioned with a lot of the aspects of the business, the way you have to play the game and use industrialized food to make it work.”

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But the food-love in the pair remains strong.

Jenna wants to spread that love. A long-time locavore, she’s setting up at the Pemberton Farmers’ Market every other Friday, as chef-in-residence, to help Pembertonians remake our relationship with locally grown vegetables. Every second week, she’ll host a cooking demonstration, to showcase either the more unusual vegetables or the incredibly prolific ones – from garlic scapes, sunchokes and kohlrabi, to radishes, or creative ways for dealing with that bounty of zucchinis (apart from leaving them on a friends’ doorstep and running away.)

“I’ve given cooking classes and done culinary workshops for groups of girlfriends before, and love it. Sharing enthusiasm and talking to people about the food is what I miss about the restaurant world.”

It’s just what the Farmers’ Market needs – a former superstar chef turned food-loving chicken mama who thinks the quest for the perfect life warrants more of our time and attention than finding a single picture-perfect piece of Chilean-grown produce. Local might be less glamorous. But it sure grows on you.

All photos via @thefoodlovers.


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