21 Apr A Conversation with Vancouver’s Queen of Catering
She breezes into her gorgeous Tuscan Tasting Room with the air of someone who is in her element. She exudes energy–lots of energy. As we begin to chat over hand-made, freshly baked cinnamon rolls and coffee, it’s evident that great food is ever-present and that she knows the right dish for every occasion–even a one to one interview! She’s a natural conversationalist (a talent all truly great entertainers possess), and is quick with an anecdote and a laugh. Talking to Donna, it’s clear that she enjoys life, and understands that great food is the key to living a fulfilling one!
CM: Recently, you’ve been hosting fantasy tasting dinners in your amazing Back-Alley Tuscan Tasting Room. Since the whole idea of that is to create an escape–an out-of-time experience for your guests–which 2 people in the world would you invite (living or dead) to a dinner party?
DW: Oh my God! That’s a tough question! I have to think about that one for a bit. I think I would invite Peter Ustinov because he loves food and conversation. He used to come by a restaurant I worked in while in Toronto, and we became friendly. I really liked him. I think the other person would be Meryl Streep. I just think she’d be a blast to have at a dinner party! A lot of laughter and great stories.
Sowing the Seeds
It’s no secret that Donna loves to cook and entertain, but the seeds of her passion for good food were planted early in her life. Raised in the Kipling-Dixon area of Toronto by her Irish father and Nova-Scotian mother, she grew up surrounded by rich farmland. Her most distinct childhood memories are of dandelion picking with her mother, foraging for wild rhubarb and picking the freshest peas out of the shell in her grandmother’s garden. “It was simple, honest food, such as milk-poached haddock and fresh scallops and lobster. That’s how I grew up and learned to eat,” explains Wadsworth.
When Donna’s mother went to work part-time on Saturdays, the then 13-year-old started to cook for her family, figuring out how to make simple recipes like Caesar Salad and Cheese Dreams. She reminisces: “I still have all the recipes that I cut out from the Toronto Star–trying to figure out how to make all this stuff. Trying to figure out food!”
The Road Less Travelled
Donna didn’t take the direct route to the catering world. She admits, “I did it all backward.” After traveling through Europe, she worked in Frobisher Bay for 3 years and developed a love of cooking. “I went as a server, but I loved the chefs and ended up hanging out with them and learning how to make traditional dishes like Cherries Jubilee.” She then went back to school to study Russian Literature and psychology, but found that “weeping over Dostoyevsky” just wasn’t cutting it.
The lure of the kitchen was tugging on her apron strings.
From Dostoevsky to Dessert
Maybe it was the starkness of Russian literature that pushed Donna towards the lush, sweet, hopeful world of desserts because she began to prepare a line of them for a restaurant she was working in. “I was doing really authentic Italian stuff; really old-school desserts.”
After turning her passion for sweet delights into a business, she decided it was time to take cooking seriously and went to a high-end restaurant in Toronto and declared that she wanted to learn to cook. After earning her Red Seal, she moved on to work for a catering company, where she fell in love with the industry. “I loved the high energy and the logistics of catering. How does this all happen!? I was hooked.”
After moving to Vancouver in 1999, she worked as the executive chef at Major the Gourmet. “I loved it” she exclaims. This led to her decision, in 2003, to start her own catering venture–Savoury City!
Fourteen years later, it’s evident that Donna’s passion and love for entertaining and custom catering have not diminished at all! She continues to grow and evolve culinarily and creatively, and her enthusiasm is contagious! As she says, “it’s about laughter and great stories–and great food always seems to be at the epicenter of that.”