One week before the Chef Survival Challenge at Madrona Farm, Nathalie Chambers delights in touring the 10-hectare property, now yielding a full fall bounty on the lower slopes of Mount Douglas.
She pulls a fresh carrot, still covered in soil, from a bin at her feet and passes it to a new farm visitor. She waits expectantly for the results of the taste test.
“I like to watch,” says the organic farmer who runs the Madrona operation along with her husband, David. “It brings people right back.”
Chambers is in the business of bringing people of all stripes back to basics when it comes to local food production and sustainability.
For the last four years Chambers has focused on a local challenge, which sees top chefs run, hurdle, crawl and kayak through an obstacle course en route to creating a masterpiece meal, but that’s all about to change in the fifth iteration of the Chef Survival Challenge.
Chambers has this year brought on board 10 Olympians and a television crew as she attempts to parlay the event into a reality TV show and a national fundraising event in every province in the country.
The obstacle course is meant to symbolize the obstacles to farming on Vancouver Island and involving chefs was a natural fit given their stakeholder status in the food movement, she says.
“Rather than dealing with high real estate prices, no mentors, pesticides, the chefs had to deal with doing the obstacles: the hurdles, the climbing wall, the boat race to condiment island,” says Chambers, who in 2008 launched a successful campaign to purchase the farm and hand it over to The Land Conservancy of B.C.
“When the farm got protected, I was super excited … I was thinking about the infinite potential of what we could do together as a community,” Chambers says.
Despite being one of the 12 TLC employees recently laid off, Chambers is keeping her spirits high and continuing to organize the event with the aim of creating a charity fund devoted to supporting farmers across Canada.
All proceeds from ticket sales to watch the madness and partake in a prepared community feast, as well as the cash raised from the auctioning off of chef creations, will go to the Big Dream Farm Fund, a resource Chambers hopes to make available for organizations dedicated to farmland acquisition and farming education.
Last year the event netted $10,000, with corporate sponsorship having covered the cost of hosting the challenge, as it will again this year.
“This fundraiser is going to grow legs and become a travelling roadshow,” says Chambers, now executive director of the Chef Survival Challenge Society. “We have the goal of entering this event in every province in Canada and once it happens in that province, it becomes a yearly event.”
Local television station Shaw TV is filming the afternoon, which includes music by Lester Quitzau and the physical prowess of the Olympians invited to aid the chefs in gathering ingredients.
Craig Sorochan, a master’s candidate in communications at Royal Roads University, was pulled into the fray in the lead-up to the Chef Survival Challenge when he came to Madrona Farm while making a documentary on local farming.
After “getting sucked into the culture,” Sorochan says, he began selling tickets and conducting volunteer PR for Chambers.
“Ninety-nine per cent of people talk about buying locally, but only one per cent do,” says Sorochan outside Madrona’s roadside farm stand, where he has been interviewing customers already sold on the merits of eating local.
“It’s going to fall on communities and the people within those communities to support the farmers.”
Entry to the Chef Survival Challenge is $40 for adults or $100 for families of four.
Tickets are available in advance at chefsurvivalchallenge.com, or at the Madroma farm stand, open 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Wednesday through Friday
Gates to Madrona Farm, 4317 Blenkinsop Rd., will open at 11:30 a.m. and the event runs from noon until 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30.