By Glenda McCarthy
Shaun Majumdar is a man with a big dream; to turn his home town of Burlington on the Baie Verte Peninsula, population 350, into a world-class tourist destination. One of his ways of doing this is The Gathering, a celebration of Newfoundland Fire, Food and Music.
For the second year, Roger Andrews packed a bag from his home on the east coast and headed to the small town of Burlington. Roger, a Cook instructor at Prince Philip Drive campus, was one of the 12 chefs selected to prepare food for The Gathering, a celebration which draws people to experience the abundance of wild isolated beauty of Burlington, Smith’s Harbour and Middle Arm. All of the profits raised during The Gathering go back into the community in support of a larger social enterprise, the not-for-profit BSM Manor.
Shaun, whose claim to fame is through the hit show This Hour Has 22 Minutes, started the event to give something special back to his hometown and that journey of building BSM Manor is presented on the docu-series Majumder Manor on the W Network.
The Gathering plays an important role in transforming the Baie Verte region through intimate music performances by local and internationally known artists, traditional and contemporary Newfoundland and Labrador cuisine, and storytelling.
The 2014 three-day festival was the biggest event yet, featuring a community potluck, comedic concert with Shaun, Mark Critch and Matt Wright, among others, as well as a Mummer Shed Crawl with Burlington native and Canadian Idol finalist, Rex Goudie.
For Roger, it was a busy time and he hit the ground running. In addition to helping with meals on Sunday, he was the lead chef for one of the two chef hikes this year, where participants experienced the natural beauty of the rural community. Shaun led the group on a rugged hike, over hills and through the woods, to descend into a beautiful local hidden treasure known as Jennings Cove. It’s a feast for the senses with live music and incredible food prepared over a crackling fire. Roger prepared a lobster and seafood boil which included lobster, crab, muscles, potatoes, corn, cabbage, carrots, and some infused butters to go along with it.
“It was challenging,” he says. “After we got to the beach it was after raining a couple of days before so everything was wet. I got out there with no lighter fluid so trying to start the fires and get everything going was a bit of a challenge. It’s a different kind of cooking and it shows how resourceful you can be when you’re thrown in the middle of the woods or on a beach and there is nothing around. You have to try to light a fire and get the food going for people who are there for three or four hours.”
Roger prepared food for about 130 people during his chef hike and was pleased with the results.
“I was cooking it as people were coming into the cove. I was by myself so I had to be thinking differently on how to pull it off. It was all pretty much put out on a table and everybody dug in.”
Helping out with events such as The Gathering is another way to keep his skills fresh.
“When teaching, I’m not doing a lot of cooking myself so it’s good because it keeps up my skills and keeps me in touch with what’s going on food wise. It gets me out in the community, meeting different people and it’s just a way to get out and do some cooking. It promotes the college and my restaurant (Relish Gourmet Burgers in St. John’s).”
It’s a hectic schedule, with the chefs going from the wee morning hours until near midnight each day. On Saturday alone it is estimated they served 2,000 people. But despite any challenges he faced, there’s no question if Roger will attend again next year.
“I like doing it. It’s a fun way to get out and get to see a different part of the province and get away from the rain, drizzle and fog for a few days,” Roger says with a chuckle. “Especially here in August month – it was horrible so it’s nice to get out and have a bit of sun, so it was like it was a bit of a shock to all the chefs systems.”
All jokes aside, what keeps him coming back each year is the hard work from the volunteers in the community.
“I think what draws the chefs to it a lot of the times, besides the fact Shaun is involved, is the community itself really comes together. They want to highlight their area of the province so they have a huge volunteer base. They all work really hard that weekend and a lot of times they don’t get the recognition they deserve,” he says.
“They are all really helpful to us and they’re inviting us into their homes to get showers, inviting us over and cooking us food – they really take a lot of pride in the event. All the money they make goes back into the community for various functions and different things they do, so it’s cool.”
Shaun agrees this event couldn’t be a success without everyone involved – including the chefs who give much more than their time during the festival.
“I LOVE ROGER. His commitment and passion elevates everyone around him,” Shaun says. “I am hoping he will be able to come back every year. And I would love for him to be able to pass on his knowledge of culinary to some of our local young people to build towards the future.”
For more information about The Gathering visit www.thegatheringburlington.com.