Chef for the National Ballet is delivering high-performance food in Toronto
A Toronto chef who's been feeding the dancers and staff of the National Ballet of Canada for 16 years is now delivering healthy meals to your door.
Erin Malin started Les Louises with a friend who shared her middle name (Louise) 15 years ago, and they ended up running the in-house cafe in The Walter Carsen Centre for The National Ballet of Canada for a decade.
Their intention was to alternate between acting jobs and working at their own cafe.
They ended up sitting in the office of Kevin Garland, then the executive director of the National Ballet, who was keen to have healthy and fresh in-house food available. At the time, the area around Queens Quay and Spadina had few food choices, forcing dancers to run several blocks out in the cold for sustenance in the winter.
"Our success really began with Kevin taking a leap of faith with us," Malin tells blogTO.
Over the years that included expanding to different locations before her friend moved on and Malin became sole owner, focusing solely on the ballet. She learned from the dancers what their bodies needed to maximize their ability to perform and heal.
"We have been on top of many new directions in food from gluten-free to protein-heavy to plant-based to anti-inflammatory," Malin says. "At the heart the dancers need high-performance foods. Nutrient-dense but also not heavy. They need long stores of energy."
She describes hurling Gatorades, waters and protein balls at dancers during busy rehearsal periods, wardrobe and stage management people plowing through smoothies, juices, immunity shots, salads and muffins. In 2020, none of that hard work would result in a show.
"Exactly one year ago on Friday Mar. 13 I came into the cafe alone, no need for staff when most everyone is out of the building," Malin says.
The cafe closed the next day, and the show they'd all been working on was cancelled.
At first she found herself happy to have extra time on her hands to experiment with new recipes, techniques and equipment, but it only took a month of not cooking for others for her to get antsy.
"Sure I was cooking for my family but it wasn't the same," she says. "My kids are like most kids, picky and not as grateful of my creations as my ego needs. They don't care that other people would pay for this food."
She came up with plan to deliver meals similar to what the ballet dancers and staff once ate: veggie-forward specials, frozen dinners and healthy treats such as miso soba noodles, curry bowls, protein balls, hummus, tamari, tahini and carrot cake breakfast cookies. However, her inspiration comes from more than just feeding dancers.
"I prefer to eat a vegetarian and anti-inflammatory diet so the dinners lean in that direction," says Malin.
"I also love curries from everywhere and I was lucky enough to travel through Southeast Asia with my family for a year from 2018 to 2019. I took so many cooking classes that year that continue to inspire me."
She first posted about offering a weekly menu in a neighbourhood Facebook group last May, and the service took off from there.
Now, Les Louises accepts orders until Monday at 10 p.m. and delivers on Wednesdays for free on orders over $50, otherwise there's a $4.99 fee.
"I know it's not convenient for the average person to shop, cook and prepare multi-vegetable dinners everyday. I can do it for them," says Malin.
"I love designing a new menu every week and I feel so lucky to remain creative and connected to my neighbours."
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