In the bustling world of gastronomy and social responsibility, one name stands out as a beacon of innovation and compassion: Jean-François Archambault, the Executive Director and Founder of La Tablée des Chefs. With a culinary background and a heart for humanity, Archambault has dedicated his life to combating food waste and building a more sustainable, equitable future through his groundbreaking work.

La Tablée des Chefs: A Culinary Revolution for Social Good

Trained as a hotelier, Archambault embarked on his journey in the culinary world, where he quickly recognized the industry’s surplus of wasted food amid the escalating global hunger crisis. This realisation spurred him to establish La Tablée des Chefs in 2002. 

Under Archambault’s leadership, La Tablée des Chefs has become a driving force in the battle against food waste. The organisation mobilises culinary professionals, including chefs and culinary students, to actively participate in recovering and redistributing surplus food. The concept is simple yet powerful: redirecting unused food from kitchens to those in need, effectively transforming kitchens into engines of social change.

Archambault states, “The team at La Tablée des Chefs has been working this way since 2002, fighting against food insecurity and developing youth’s food autonomy with the help of dedicated and valuable partners.”

Coast to Coast: Connecting Communities

La Tablée des Chefs acts as a connector between food donors and receivers, validating relationships and setting up programs to ensure effective and safe food redistribution. Through their web-based platform, the organisation serves as the link between donors and receivers. The organisation works with large institutions like Compass, and sports facilities by leveraging established relationships to  ensure food reaches its intended destinations. 

Although their primary focus is on institutional partnerships, Archambault hints at discussions to expand the program. 

La Tablée des Chefs demonstrated its resilience and impact by preparing 4.4 million meals in 18 months across Canada, during the pandemic. 

Archambault mobilised kitchens such as the Queen Elizabeth, Chateau Frontenac, Bell Center, Rogers Arena and Scotiabank Arena, emphasising collaboration and utilising a wage subsidy program to cover costs. He secured warehouse space, including 200 pallets from Congebec, allowing seamless movement and dispatch of donations to hotels. He was supported by businesses like Gordon Food Service (GFS) and Sobeys. “Despite the logistical intricacies, we managed effectively with the help of spacious buildings and kitchens”, shares Archambault.

The journey so far

In the initial phase, the focus was on obtaining licences and legal approvals. The La Tablée des Chefs team successfully navigated the legal process with Marriott Canada. This paved the way for the implementation of the program in potentially 200 hotels across Canada. La Tablée des Chefs  has ventured into various sectors, including hospital food service, corporate food service, and university campuses. 

Archambault explains, “Our involvement extends to any setting with significant volume and logistical challenges in moving post-served food. As a program-based initiative, we offer a turnkey solution, providing chefs and culinary professionals with everything they need.” 

The Kitchen Brigades Program… Bringing culinary training  back into the schools

The evolution of La Tablée des Chefs led to the creation of the Kitchen Brigades initiative, expanding beyond meal recovery, to engaging students in extracurricular culinary activities and competitions. 

The extracurricular Brigades program enrols 25 students and runs for 24 weeks, with weekly sessions lasting an hour and a half. “We introduce a chef to the school, emphasising the need for a decent space to run the Kitchen Brigade program. We provide the basic kitchen tools and upgrade equipment. We collaborate with partners to ensure top-notch resources.”

Culinary competitions have also been created where brigades of 4 or 5 students compete within their school, and can advance to the regional, and national levels. Renowned chef Ricardo Larrivée judges the national finals at ITHQ, adding prestige to the program.

Building for the future

Beyond the competitions, the Kitchen Brigade program acts as a gateway to culinary careers. Culinary schools struggling with enrollment reach out to tap into the passionate talent pool of youths. These students, armed with Kitchen Brigade certificates representing 45 hours of training, become potential candidates for culinary training programs. Talking about the program, Archambault shares, “We aim to reignite interest in the culinary profession and provide supportive training for youth seeking meaningful careers.”

The organisation has partnered with government bodies and secured grants, leading to significant growth. In Quebec alone, the program has expanded from 125 to 250 schools, with negotiations underway for a new five-year term. Spreading across Canada, this program is also reaching over 50 schools in 6 other provinces bringing over 1000 youths together around food autonomy.

What’s Next for Jean-François Archambault?

Looking ahead, Archambault envisions further collaboration with organisations to extend the program’s impact nationwide. With a focus on sustainability, food recovery, and educational outreach, La Tablée des Chefs aims to collaborate with diverse institutions, from schools to corporate cafeterias.

Talking about his future plans, he shares, “We initiated a soup program as a response to the realisation that, after bread and bakery items, vegetables are among the most wasted in our industry due to their short lifespan. Collaborating with entities like Canadawide and Courchesne Larose wholesalerside, we gather food donations that food banks might reject and redirect them to golf courses, hotels, arenas and hospital kitchens. These kitchens then craft significant amounts of soup using the donated ingredients, including the pallets of vegetables and containers we provide.”

He adds on, “This kitchen-centric project has proven successful and is an excellent initiative for any culinary space. We are actively working to expand it nationwide and have proposed partnerships to companies. Implementing this program allows us to significantly increase our impact by driving up volumes of rescued food.” Knowing that kids come to school without lunch and even though they might get a breakfast program that might be the only meal they get in the day, the soup brings warmth and comfort to these kids and this is happening everywhere in our country.

The Future of Food Recovery

Archambault’s vision for a future where no one goes hungry and excess food becomes a catalyst for positive social transformation continues to inspire change in the culinary industry and beyond. Through his leadership, La Tablée des Chefs demonstrates that a plate of food can be more than sustenance – it can be a vehicle for hope and change.

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