The restaurant scene in Edmonton, although just finding its face, is thriving under the excitement of the culinary community throughout the city. With any developing industry there is an increased amount of stress and long work hours and the restaurant industry is no exception. Mental illness regularly takes its toll on people in the service industry, a fact that chef Dan Letourneau has recently taken note of. Letourneau is a chef at Ocean Odyssey Inland, a fishery here in Edmonton, and also at Woodwork, a trendy restaurant on 100th street.
Letourneau has a history in the Edmonton restaurant scene with Culina Mill Creek, a small community restaurant that was open for 11 years in Old Strathcona, and closed in the fall of 2016. After the restaurant closed, Letourneau’s former co-worker and current roommate was dissatisfied with feeling like his profession lacked meaning and connection. People in the service industry are tasked with managing their lives amidst a work environment that is filled with pressure. Soon after deciding to put their heads together to tackle this issue, they recruited a member of the Edmonton community with over 20 years of experience in the food service industry. Having vocalized his struggles with substance abuse and having ties to the media, he made for a perfect fit to launch Food for Thoughts. With a history of seeing people struggling to balance their work and personal lives within the service industry, Letourneau and company decided that it was time for a change.
Following a break-up with his partner, Chef Daniel’s roommate and Food for Thoughts co-founder sought help through the Momentum Walk-In Clinic. Upon seeing how much it was helping his roommate and others using the group counselling sessions, the trio decided to organize a fundraiser in order to extend the services offered. Mental illness is a very personal issue for him and it has a history in his family, so this is his way of giving back. When asked about how people usually respond to this issue, Letourneau explains that,
“Edmonton is nuts about their food scene so hearing this is an issue is very jarring for them.”
Since Letourneau really believed in the work that the walk-in clinic was doing, he determined that he wanted to conduct a fundraising gala to support them. In order to do this, a media team was assembled and tasked with promoting the gala to the general public.
After generating a discussion and doing interviews with CBC and a couple French radio stations, Letourneau put together a gala. What he produced was a cocktail and finger food gala with an emphasis on hearing people’s struggles with mental health in the service industry. Throughout the evening, with the help of a silent auction, the gala ended up raising $3000 for the walk-in clinic and the subsequent men’s mental health group within, the Anchormans Program.
With the success of the gala, Letourneau decided that he wanted to continue his campaign for mental health. His main goal is to empower people working inside food services to make better life choices instead of self-medicating. He is currently in the process of developing a food services counselling group for people who wish to seek help. Not one to shy away from volunteering opportunities, Letourneau occasionally works with Meals on Wheels, has done a cooking spot on CTV news promoting the 104 downtown market, and is applying to volunteer with the humane society cuddling puppies.
We asked about Letourneau’s favourite part of the restaurant industry, and his response was that he loves the people he gets to work with. He states that the “people you work with in food services for so many hours in such stressful conditions, you either love the hell out of each other or you quit. When you’ve gone to war with someone for that long, they’re your teammates. They’re your family.”
Letourneau hopes to continue to bring awareness to the restaurant industry’s struggle with mental health while also seeking out alternatives within the food service industry. With a strong and growing service industry in Edmonton, the opportunities are endless and the challenges are consistent and rewarding.
Thomas and Alea