Ryan Orr has created menus and cooked for some of the richest people in the world.
As executive chef at the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, Orr has catered to people who pay fabulous sums to camp in luxury tents at one of the most expensive all-inclusives in North America.
But for the past two days, he’s had a different clientele. As head chef for the Mustard Seed’s annual Christmas dinner, Orr is in charge of feeding 750 people in need, including those who camp in cold and wet Victoria parks.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, the market I’m in, the people I cook for,” said the 39-year-old married father of two. “But there’s a satisfaction that comes out of this. To see the kids. This is their Christmas meal. It means a lot to me.”
Ten years ago, Orr’s mother, Lynn, who has volunteered year-round at the Mustard Seed for 20 years, asked her son to help out with the dinner.
“I originally went and helped out and then, after two years, I was asked if I could take over the kitchen,” Orr said. “It was full-on from there.”
The food for the meal — 300 kilograms of turkey, 136 kilograms of potatoes, 200 kilograms of vegetables and 70 loaves of bread for the stuffing — was ordered in November. Lilydale donated 50 kilograms of turkey carcasses so Orr can make a stock for gravy.
On Saturday, Orr and a group of his friends began a marathon cooking session in the galley kitchens at CFB Esquimalt.
Once the meal — which will begin with a hot bowl of tomato basil soup and end with pumpkin pies donated by the Empress Hotel — is ready later today, it will be trucked to the Bay Street Armoury and served by an army of volunteers.
“Just showing up and opening the door is heartwarming,” Orr said. “A very important part of it is the huge population of working poor, young families where both parents are working, but the cost of living is so high.”
Every year during the dinner, people come up, shake Orr’s hand and thank him.
“It’s humbling. It’s not just me. There’s a whole team behind me that does this. I just happen to be wearing the white jacket,” he said.
“I give some time to do this, for sure. But there are people like my mother who volunteer year round at the Mustard Seed. She’s there on your random Wednesday in March as well, not just the special occasions. And I think, those are the people who need to be trumpeted as giving of themselves day in and day out.”
After 11 years, Orr is moving on from the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort and setting up his own company, Sooke Oceanside Brewery. He admits there have been years he has thought of taking a break from cooking the massive Christmas dinner.
“But I just can’t get away from it. I’d feel worse if I didn’t do it. And it’s not a matter of feeling guilty — I just have such a passion for it.”
Lynn Orr said her son cooks everything from scratch and makes a beautiful dinner.
“I’m happy he would do this for people, because I think every one of us should do more,” she said. “We always get these good-time stories at Christmas, but we need them other times of the year, too.”
Lynn joined the street church in 1996 and started volunteering during the day.
“I just found it filled me up with joy,” she said. “No matter what your life presents you with, there’s always someone who has it worse than you.”
This year, the Times Colonist is working with the Salvation Army and the Mustard Seed to give as many people as possible a wonderful Christmas and support throughout the year. It’s all part of the Christmas Giving Network, an umbrella organization that co-ordinates Christmas efforts throughout the region. Food for the Christmas dinner is paid for by readers of the Times Colonist through the Christmas Fund.
How to donate
• Go to timescolonist.com/christmas-fund. That takes you to a site that is open 24 hours a day and provides an immediate tax receipt.
• Or mail a cheque, payable to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund Society, to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 2621 Douglas St., Victoria, B.C. V8T 4M2.
• You can use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Outside those hours, leave a message and your call will be returned.