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Chefs ready to launch amped-up take out menu in South Porcupine

Red Seal Catering offers up scratch-made grab-and-go meals

A busy schedule creates less time for meals, which often means turning to fast food. This conjures up images of greasy, slapped together burgers and fries.

Most customers know it’s not the best food, but it’s a quick fix for hunger.

A local catering company is offering a fresh, healthier alternative to fast food for those who have to eat on the run or bring lunch back to their workplace.

During the past three years, Red Seal Catering has earned a reputation for providing delicious food, all made from scratch. Now, owners Jessica and Jason Bouvier are ready to provide a grab-and-go storefront where busy residents can enjoy amped-up favourites.

On March 2, they plan to launch a new arm of Red Seal Catering in the kitchen attached to Rubino's Petro Can on Harold Avenue in South Porcupine.

The menu will include a variety of fresh-cut fries, sandwiches, burgers, flatbreads and items that make lovers of the Food Network drool.

But their soon-to-open food workshop didn’t spring up overnight. Both chefs have come down paths that led to the creation of a growing food business.

“I’m from the Collingwood area,” Jessica explained. “I grew up in Walkerton. I studied my culinary career in the Collingwood-Blue Mountain area.

“Jason was a welder for more than 20 years. Unfortunately, his wife passed away ... He retired from welding and bought a house up here because he is originally from Timmins. He bought their dream retirement property, sold their house down there.

“He met me down south. At the time I was a professional chef. He said move up here with me. So, I came up here and there was no fancy hotel to take over, so what am I going to do? We should think of opening up a catering business or a restaurant. We looked into it and there was no large-scale wedding caterer here.”

On her life path, she overcame obstacles en route to success.

“I’ve always worked in restaurants, in chains like Montana’s and Wacky Wings for 15 years,” Jessica said. “Then I came into sobriety. I’m coming up on seven years of sobriety. When I got sober, that’s when I started taking my cooking seriously.

“I started working in a retirement home. When I got the job there, I was so grateful to be there working for people who built this country. They say the secret to staying sober is helping others, so I got to do that.”

She was offered an apprenticeship and paid her dues in the food industry.

“I worked 13-hour days,” she said. “Eight-hour shifts (in Collingwood), then worked in Toronto. I learned banquets, French culinary.

“I even sometimes slept in my car on the way home, I was so tired. I did that for a year.

“In my second or third year into apprenticeship, I went to Thornbury, Ont., worked for a caterer there. Learned how to pack everything in car, go to a field and cater a wedding. Again working 70 hours a week”

Next, she was offered the executive chef position at the same retirement home where she previously worked.

“That’s where I really learned to become an executive chef,” she said. “I had 37 staff, 80 residents and the dietary requirements to cater to. I think what got me there was going beyond for the residents. Making them what they love within budget.”

She met Jason and eventually moved up North.

“I took a job at Vicky D’Amour’s, where I learned baking and then launched my catering business,” Jessica explained. “After our first wedding in Timmins, the word got out. We started just doing our own catering.”

That early success led to a great opportunity for the new business.

“Not long after, a friend asked if we deliver,” she said. “He said we’ve got some guys who need food seven days a week. It was for the Canadian Mental Health Association. We checked out the site of the live-in residence, suggested putting a chef in the kitchen there and making breakfast lunch and dinner, giving them their dietary requirements for the day. And they were on board with that.

“We’re still there. It’s been two years and it has been amazing. We feed 20 there now with disabilities.”

Red Seal continued to grow its reputation by catering events and weddings. That led to another opportunity at the local downhill ski resort.

“Mount Jamieson has been a huge supporter,” she said. “They called me last year because they didn’t have a cook. They have this kitchen with huge potential. We launched an amazing bar menu with seafood, homemade burgers, lots of apps, wings and it just blew up.

“They offered us to be their wedding caterers here. We have weddings here all summer. And we’re here in the winter too now. People can book and have parties here.”

Sunday brunches and great bar food are now commonplace for local skiers.

Still, the couple wanted to find a location to bring their food to more people.

“Rumour had it the kitchen available in the gas station (Rubino's Petro Can), and we said let’s do it,” Jessica said. “We’ll have our food ready and available for everyone, not just private catered events.”

The menu will make it worth the drive to the East End for people living in Timmins. It includes fresh cut fries, garlic parm fries, poutine and onion rings for sides. Then there is chicken parm or veal parm on a bun, an eight-ounce beef burger, pulled pork on a bun, beef brisket mac and cheese, bbq chicken flatbread, caprese flatbread, Mexican street corn, and smoked brisket grilled cheese.

Chef’s dinner combos will be available, just phone ahead for dinner specials.

“My dinners are going to reflect what we are making that day, roast beef, or prime rib, seafood, chicken or vegetarian dishes,” she said. “When we have catering events, we’ll post daily specials that often reflect catering preparation.”

Jessica also explained that not all vegetarian dishes cause diners to miss meat.

“You can do a cheesy stuffed pasta smothered in garlic butter and Asiago cheese and sauteed veggies on top and it’s delicious.”

The brisket mac and cheese is bound to become a local favourite.

“A year and a half ago, we did an event for 13 Designs and offered a smoked brisket mac and cheese and everyone loved it,” she said. “We said we definitely have to offer this in our menu.

“Our smoked brisket takes anywhere from 18-24 hours. Smoked brisket is something we like to offer because no one else does.”

Mexican street corn is often seen on cooking shows. Soon it will be coming to South Porcupine.

“There’s many ways to do it,” Jessica said. “I’m probably going to do it with a crispy prosciutto or bacon, a jalapeno aioli, some chili sauce, lots of butter, salt and pepper.

“Basically, you have your fresh corn. Right now, I’m talking to some of our food service companies and they will have some on standby for me. Find the right one I like, bring it in for me.”

She found it tough to pick a personal favourite from the Red Seal menu.

“I would have, it’s so hard to choose, the flatbread is so good,” she said. “Light, crispy flatbread with our ingredients on top. Our garlic parm fries are definitely delicious. It’s one of my signature dishes I’ve brought to Timmins. We always use fresh-cut fries.

“But there’s the mac and cheese. I make the cheese sauce the French way, with a traditional bechamel with cheese from scratch. A homemade cheese sauce with a variety of cheeses in it to give it that bite and some spices. Our brisket is layered with many herbs and spices, so that adds a lot of flavour. So, I combine the noodles and the sauce, toss it up and make it nice and hot. Delicious.”

Calling their grab-and-go items fast food is not doing their menu justice.

“Everything is made from scratch,” she said. “Our buns, either outsource or make ourself.

“Our chicken parm sandwich is like no other. Chicken or veal parmesan breaded in just regular bread crumbs — like Nonna would make, for all the Italians out there. Delicious.

“We were inspired by this amazing company in Toronto and Barrie called California Sandwiches. This little Italian lady opened and now a franchise. We’re doing fresh tomato sauce, breaded cutlets fresh every day, cheese, loaded with peppers onions and a fresh baked bun. Amazing.”

It may seem like there is a lot on the company plate for Red Seal. But the duo believes they can get it done.

“The only way we can juggle all of this is that we have an amazing staff,” Jessica said. “We’ve been blessed with wonderful people in our lives. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t do any of this.”

Even the company name reflects their attitude about food.

“When I came here, I noticed there wasn’t much culinary cooked from scratch,” she said. “I wanted to name the business Red Seal Catering so people knew they were getting the real deal.

“A red seal chef, with red hair,” adding a laugh.

Red Seal Catering opens its grab-and-go kitchen on March 2 at 4310 Harold Ave. in South Porcupine, at Rubinos Petro Can. Keep up-to-date on what they're doing on Facebook or their website.