Meet our Kerby Cafe Red Seal Chef Stephen Mawson

Written by Andrew McCutcheon – August 2022

On July 5, the menu is a tangy citrus chicken, with herbed potatoes, buttermilk pasta salad and a summer slaw. The folks in the kitchen need to work hard: there are 100 meals of these to make and eventually deliver.

Over stampede week, there was the classic pancake breakfast: fluffy pancakes, hearty sausage and bacon alongside the perfect morning coffee to start the day.

And on July 15, it’s sandwich making. A bit easier to assemble and finish, but these sandwiches are being delivered to Bear Clan in Downtown Calgary, who will distribute the hearty and healthy items to vulnerable folks experiencing homelessness.

Three extremely disparate events. You might imagine them happening in different places around the city, but they all involve one location: the Kerby Café, now run by Red Seal Chef Stephen Mawson.

The Kerby Café has an extended menu when it comes to the social programs, events and — of course — delicious meals that are run out of our professional kitchen. But they all follow the same basic recipe: the idea that food is more than just food.

“Food isn’t just fuel. It’s reason to come together,” Mawson says. “It’s common ground for people.”

“I think it’s vitally important to social health.”

Mawson is chatting with me at 7:30 in the morning as he preps various ingredients and bases for the day’s work at the Kerby Café. There are vegetables to slice and stocks to simmer, but our back-and-forth never wavers. He’s as much a conversationalist as he is a chef.

“I was backpacking around Europe when I was around 16 years old and the easiest way to get work back then was to work in Kitchens,” Mawson recalls. “I quite liked it.”

Mawson spent years backpacking, not just through Europe but through Asia as well: Vietnam, Thailand, Bali, Japan. It’s not only where he developed a taste for travel, but his taste for cooking as well.

“When I got back to Australia a few years later, I did my apprenticeship and went from there.”

He spent a decade in Australia before the move to Canada; he’s Red Seal certified and has experienced many different cuisines in his travels across the world.

“I had a volunteer come in yesterday, she’s from Morocco. She brought me lunch and wanted to share it with me to see what I thought of some of her recipes,” Mawson says. “I got to blow her socks off by saying, absolutely it tastes just like last time I was in Morocco.”

“It was a blast to see her light up like that.”

Aside from putting his excellent skills to work in the daily operation of the Kerby Café, Mawson also helps oversee some of the vital social programs run out of the kitchen.

For example, the community kitchen program has a group of volunteers come in weekly — soon moving up to twice a week — to work together and make over a hundred meals over a day.

Some of the meals go home with the volunteers, but the rest are then delivered to older adults who are isolated as part of Kerby’s Food Security program — those who are less mobile or less able to ensure they have proper, home-cooked meals on a consistent basis.

Beyond just the deliveries, once a month the Kerby Café hosts a massive plated meal for these same folks. They come by uber, by taxi or by bus, and Mawson helps cook up a storm to make sure no one goes home hungry.

“It’s a chance for the volunteers to learn some tips, tricks and recipes, have some fun and lots of social interaction,” Mawson says. “And the people who get the meals donated get to have the social interaction as well at the plated meal as well.”

Just like Mawson mentions earlier, it’s not just about the food. Isolation is a terrifying aspect of the aging process and contributes to a huge raft of physical and mental problems in vulnerable adults. The Kerby Café helps change that.

“It’s not just about the food insecurity, it’s about having that interaction with people.”

The Café isn’t just a place where folks at Kerby Centre can come have a delicious lunch after their programs, or the spot to socialize over a cup of coffee.

It’s a spot where truly vital programs are happening, where Kerby can fulfil its mission: ensuring older adults are supported to live well in their community.

And living well? That means eating well, too.