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Collingwood-based chef wants to redefine the meaning of comfort food

'It all comes down to this – our food choices have a huge impact on our lives, an impact on our families, our communities and ultimately on Mother Earth,' says chef and creator of The Healing Cuisine

Joanne Gerrard Young believes eating healthy shouldn’t be complicated.

“I want to raise awareness that healthy, nourishing foods can be delicious and simple to prepare. My mission is to help people realize that food is medicine and understand that it can help more people live pain-free lives,” said Gerrard Young, founder of The Healing Cuisine

The Healing Cuisine is a cooking school offering online courses, “conscious” cooking classes, and consultations focused primarily on plant-based whole foods. Through her teaching, Gerrard Young helps her clients learn how to create healthy and delicious meals in the most simple way.

An international chef, conscious entrepreneur, and a proud wife and mother of two teenage boys, Gerrard Young has been embracing and creating gluten and allergen-free plant-based foods for over 25 years. She believes with her whole heart that finding comfort in food doesn’t have to be by eating the “comfort food” you grew up with — bread, pasta, chips, you name it. 

“It all comes down to this – our food choices have a huge impact on our lives, an impact on our families, our communities and ultimately on Mother Earth,” Gerrard Young said. 

But her journey to healthy eating has been all but glorious. Born in Mississauga, Gerrard Young spent the majority of her life in Whistler and then Costa Rica before she stumbled on Collingwood a few years ago. She struggled with food cravings and overeating, and is very familiar with the dreaded dinner dilemma of deciding what to eat. 

The thing that helped shift her mindset, and the number one thing she now teaches her clients, is that if you feel misaligned with what you are putting in your body, it will ultimately affect your entire life. But small, simple shifts in your mindset — and learning how to easily turn vegetables into mouth-watering meals — can make all the difference. 

“I really just love inspiring people and teaching them how good food can be so healing and so helpful for our bodies,” she smiled.

It all started while Gerrard Young was living in Whistler. Although a trained chef, she took a shot on the other side of the pass and spent her days slinging beer and nachos to skiers as they came off the mountain. 

“I started thinking, people don’t want beer and nachos, they should have a smoothie at the end of their run. People looked at me like I was crazy,” she laughed. 

But this idea persisted, so Gerrard Young left her job at the restaurant to study entrepreneurship before returning to Whistler once again, this time ready to run the local juice bar — introducing a wide range of organic juices, salad dressings and recipes to its menu. She got into “healthier vegetarianism” and became enthralled in studying ways to heal the body through whole foods.

Since then, her journey has taken her to open a cafe in Pemberton and own a restaurant in Costa Rica, where she continued to learn about this concept and share her knowledge with those who would listen. 

“Natural food is so powerful,” she said. “I talk about the energy of the colours of our food and the nutrients that each colour represents. Even the glands that each colour helps and the bacteria that each helps.”

But something was missing. 

“Once I started teaching, I knew I found my calling,” Gerrard Young said. “I think, in general, people want to eat more plants, but they don't really know how to get them on their plate. I love showing people how delicious vegetables can be. It just takes a few tweaks or a few good sauces.”

In the off-season, Gerrard Young would travel back to Ontario to visit family. During one of her trips back to Toronto, she decided to look for a local place where she could continue her classes and stumbled on a juice bar in Collingwood. 

“I remember walking down the streets here and thinking, if I ever have to come back to Ontario, I could totally live here in this town,” she said. 

Gerrard Young’s father got sick, so she decided to temporarily move her family back to Canada full time. She couldn’t find anything reasonable to rent in the city so on a whim, she looked for a house in Collingwood and found the perfect fit. 

She was able to continue her cooking classes online, and started forming partnerships with like-minded businesses in town. 

Her kale caesar salad is now available on the Paisano Vegano menu, and she sells some of her dressings and dips through The Wild Stand. Gerrard Young has also started a passion project in collaboration with The Wild Stand, where she uses their commercial kitchen once a week to repurpose any food they were going to compost and turns it into a sauce. All of the proceeds from the repurposed products go to a local charity. 

“I am loving collaborating here in Collingwood,” said Gerrard Young. “I love the community here, there are a lot of really conscious people.”

While COVID-19 has stopped any in-person cooking classes for the time being, Gerrard Young has continued with her online classes, and currently offers a weekly sauce making series called Getting Saucy with Chef Jo. 

Her online offerings range from a free introduction on the basics of The Healing Cuisine to private, customized cooking classes and everything in between. A typical class includes a shopping list sent out ahead of time, and then everything is prepared together online. Throughout the hour, Gerrard Young offers all kinds of holistic nutrition tips, discussing the benefits of every ingredient she uses and why she is using it the way she is. 

“It gives my clients a new perspective and excites them about food again. And about feeding their families,” said Gerrard Young. “I love that it has a ripple effect on the individual and then their families and their communities and the planet.”

Gerrard Young has all kinds of things in the works to add to The Healing Cuisine, including a cookbook and a product line, and she is excited about the possibility of creating other partnerships here in Collingwood as restrictions start to loosen. 

For now, as spring fast approaches, Gerrard Young content drawing inspiration for her own meals from the ever-changing seasons. 

To learn more about Gerrard Young or her cooking classes, visit The Healing Cuisine.