You are what you eat

Personal chef gives insight into new cooking norms

Olivia Lee founded the plant-based catering company Plantavor in late 2019.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) food and nutrition guideline in response to the COVID-19 pandemic outlines that it is crucial to stay hydrated while limiting salt, sugar and fat intakes, and it highlights the importance of home-cooked meals. 

As delivery options continue to grow in demand and make dining-out options for restaurants more available, the last WHO guideline listed above may seem less attractive, but businesses like Plantavor are hoping to put home-cooked meals on Winnipeg plates.

Plantavor is a plant-based catering company founded by Olivia Lee in fall 2019, and though it started out as a small business after fulfilling a few of her friend’s culinary needs, Lee says business quickly heated up in her kitchen.

“Last fall, it was a really great time for me to start, because Christmas was around the corner, so I ended up having a really busy Christmas season, and from there, I started doing plant-based cooking classes,” she says.

“So at the time ... I would go to people’s homes and bring all of the food, all of the recipes and cook plant-based meals together. I was doing that pretty much all of 2020, but then when COVID-19 hit, that obviously changed a lot in terms of gathering in groups, so I put that on hold.”

With house visits off the table, Lee switched her focus to online classes, and though this format has its own unique hurdles, the plant-based extraordinaire is determined to make it work.

“With the in-person classes, it is great, because I am there, and it is super hands-on, and I am coaching people in terms of their chopping skills and how they are executing certain recipes,” she says.

“So the challenge for me in switching to an online cooking-class format is that it is difficult to see people in their own kitchen, and there is a bit of trial and error in terms of camera setup and how I can still connect with people and give them coaching that I want them to get. But it has been going pretty well, and I am adapting to it, and the response has been quite good. It has been a challenge, but it has not held me back.”

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, a plant-based diet can help reduce the risk of certain diseases, provide the best source for fibre intake, benefit the environment and is cost-efficient. As someone who has been plant-based for nearly six years, Lee says she tries to promote this dietary choice primarily because of its health benefits in light of the pandemic.

“I think that the big thing that a lot of people are focusing on right now is boosting their immune system, which has been a common conversation,” she says. “I think that a plant-based diet can certainly be an excellent step towards that.”

For Lee, Plantavor is more than just a business. It is a source of inspiration and health promotion. Although 2020’s challenges have not been the best for business, she is looking ahead. 

“I started with catering, and that is what I love to do,” she says.

“When I do catering, it is like these big, elaborate spreads of food, and that is what I love doing. It is like food artistry in the way the food is presented, and how I want them to be consumed. So I had to shift that offering, but I would love to get back to the point where I am offering that style of service again.”

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Published in Volume 75, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 26, 2020)

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