The more, the merrier: Culinary grad pens cookbook with tips for feeding crowds

Continuing Education instructor Sharon StewardSharon Steward’s cooking is a real crowd-pleaser — and her new cookbook is sure to be, too.

A Continuing Education instructor at Red River College, Steward is busy prepping for the launch of Volume: Cooking for a Community on Sat., Dec. 2, at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

The book is inspired by Steward’s role as the kitchen manager and head chef at InterVarsity Pioneer Camp Manitoba, a Christian summer camp located on MacKinnon Island at the north end of Shoal Lake.

During camp season, Steward and her staff are responsible for serving three meals a day (plus snacks) to anywhere from 180 to 200 people at a time. Suffice it to say, she knows how to cook for a crowd.

Cover art: Volume — Cooking for a Community“Each recipe in the book has an amount for four to six people, and then also for about 80 servings,” Steward explains. “It’s a very exciting tool — one I’m hoping a lot of other places, facilities and individuals can use to help them serve their communities.

“(Given) the types of food service people do, people cooking in their community centre or their monthly church meetings or in athletic groups, this book has huge potential and there really isn’t a current resource like it.”

Steward graduated from RRC’s Culinary Arts program in 2002. Prior to enrolling, she worked at the Wildgrass Café on Pembina Highway and Bread & Circuses Bakery Café off Corydon Avenue.

She first became interested in cooking as a young child, growing up on a grain farm between the towns of Oak Bluff and Sanford, Man.

“Cooking and baking from scratch was a very natural and common part of our everyday life,” Steward says. “I have many memories of my mom and I packing up meals and taking them out to the field. We’d take a table and chairs out, and set up a full picnic on the back of the pickup truck.”

After graduating from RRC, Steward earned her Red Seal Chef certification in 2003 and her sommelier certification (from the International Sommelier Guild) in 2005.

From 2005 to 2008, she worked as the sommelier and dining room manager at Catch, a Calgary seafood restaurant run by famed Canadian chef Michael Noble.

In 2009, Steward and her family moved back to Manitoba. Her husband became the associate director of Pioneer Camp in 2012; she joined the team in the kitchen soon after.

Continuing Education instructor Sharon Steward“We live there from May to September, on the island with our three boys, which is great for me because I can teach in the off-season,” says Steward, who teaches a range of weekend and evening courses at RRC — on everything from seasonal treats to advanced knife skills — as well as its After-School Leaders program, in which high school students attend twice a week to learn basic baking and cooking skills.

According to Steward, the secret to successfully serving huge groups of people is “being prepared and planning ahead.”

“The [camp] volunteers are always amazed when I tell them, ‘You’re going to chop this 50-pound box of potatoes. It’s not for lunch, it’s not for dinner, it’s for tomorrow’s lunch,’” she says.

But making meals for large groups means you have to be more mindful of food allergies and sensitivities, something Steward was sure to highlight in her book.

“I had food allergies as a teenager, so to me, that’s been a natural part of preparing food for people,” she said.

“All the recipes in my book have allergy notes — like if it’s dairy-free already or if it needs a substitute — and almost all the baking items have gluten-free substitutions.

“That’s something we do [at camp] and I’ve seen the impact it has on these young people. It’s something I’m passionate about. As a young person who had allergies, going out to restaurants and having the chef come out to tell me that my food was going to be safe, that was very impactful.”

The McNally launch of Volume: Cooking for a Community gets underway at 7 p.m. All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to Pioneer Camp Manitoba.

To order a copy — or to peruse Steward’s recipes and blog posts — visit volumecookbook.com.

— Profile by Jared Story (Creative Communications, 2005)