Community and connection are an integral part of Chef Pam Fanjoy’s approach to overcoming barriers in her career as a Social Worker, turned classically-trained French-style TV star Chef, turned Culinary Therapist. Chef Pam has moved through pivots in her life that would have been too daunting for many, and not only succeeded but led her to become an innovator and leader in her pursuits. She embodies true reciprocity in the communities that she exists in and fosters, along with the communities she has been welcomed into.

Chef Pam is the creator and chef at Fan/Joy, a concept that started as a restaurant and became a social enterprise focusing on blending culinary education with counseling techniques. This meant Chef Pam now needed to find her footing in areas such as financial literacy, identifying as a social enterprise, realizing room for further efficiency, and viewing adaptation as possible and achievable.

In the true spirit of resourcefulness, she is now affiliated with numerous business support groups, programs, communities, and accelerators to find assistance through her growth and development. Chef Pam is a member of Innovation Guelph’s Rhyze Ventures program, through which she found the WOSEN community, she’s a member of the ShEO Canadian Ventures community, a BMO for Women Grant recipient, a member of the GroYourBiz Advisory Board, and part of the investment readiness program offered by KW Community Foundations. These support systems have been fundamental in helping Chef Pam build her confidence outside of the kitchen.

Communities that specifically cater to women business owners, such as WOSEN (Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network), Rhyze Ventures, ShEO Community Ventures, and GroYourBiz, aim to provide educational support in a space that is comfortable and accessible. Chef Pam found this to fulfill a critical need. “It gave me women to talk to about money. I think money is inherently a topic that can bring up a lot of shame for women and particularly women business owners.” However, Chef Pam’s ingenuity and integration of community into a daily practice started years before even knowing how to properly prepare a Bœuf Bourguignon.

Entering the workforce as a clinical social worker, Chef Pam led a successful career for over 20 years as a child and family therapist, specializing in child psychiatry. After working within the medical field and the court systems, Chef Pam began her own private practice, and eventually founded Chestnut Collaborative Solutions, the first interdisciplinary Collaborative Law Center in Ontario. Above all, Chef Pam has always had a desire to help others and to help connect people together. Social work satisfied these desires, as Chef Pam provided therapeutic counsel and mediation between families and loved ones. A large portion of her work centred around teens and transitional youth grappling with mental health issues, and it proved to be a fulfilling yet stressful vocation. In the pursuit for a hobby that would provide some balance, Chef Pam began to dip her toes into the world of the culinary arts.

Not one to shy away from learning something new, Chef Pam went back to school, starting from square one at George Brown College. Balancing school as a mature student, while working part-time in social work,and pivoting from a successful and established career, Chef Pam remained undeterred. She received overwhelming emotional and financial support from her friends and colleagues to enter a charitable cooking competition, which led her to consider chef training more seriously. Next thing she knew, Chef Pam was on her way to France for a four month externship under a husband-wife team of restaurateurs. Infused with classical French-style training and a focus on farm-to-table cooking, Chef Pam began to lay the foundation for a significant career change and was soon on the hunt for a restaurant space of her own back home in rural South-Western Ontario. Spurred on and educated by community, it was also Chef Pam’s community that led her to the purchase of her first commercial culinary space while she finished up schooling. A friend of a friend provided an opportunity at a time when finding a kitchen space was proving challenging, and the new Chef Pam now had the first iteration of her restaurant.

Success followed Chef Pam as she graduated culinary school, grew a loyal customer base, competed and eventually won Season 3, episode 7 of reality TV show, Chopped Canada! At this point, Chef Pam upgraded from her small café to Fan/Joy, a 30-seat restaurant in Hillsburgh, Ontario.

Located between the GTA and cottage country, Fan/Joy serves travellers and locals alike. The restaurant, in turn, assuaged Chef Pam’s love of growing relationships, facilitating connection, and fostering community.

“My restaurant was never just a restaurant, to me,”says Chef Pam. “It was always a community hub to feed connection.” And she did not stop there. Chef Pam began to notice and find opportunity in the holistic benefits of food. The way food soothes us, and the way it initiates connection. How food brings people together. She goes on to explain her realization that, “food had the ability to be a way of communicating when people didn’t want to have a conversation.”

When asked if she finds similarities in temperaments between social work and the restaurant industry, Chef Pam can provide numerous examples. Namely, “they’re all about people.” Chef Pam quickly noticed the opportunity for innovation.

By combining her background in social work, her passion for supporting transitional youth, and her enthusiasm for cooking and serving good food, Chef Pam created what she now refers to as culinary therapy.

“I’m using food to provide life skills that really are meant to last a lifetime,” she explains. “I’m taking them into a more comfortable, engaging, exciting environment where they’re going to learn how to cook… and I’m whisking into my recipes cognitive behavioral techniques of therapy.” Chef Pam created the Culinary, Counseling and Training Centre and the Junior Chef branches of her business in order to integrate her new holistic take on mental health. She holds cooking classes which provide an approach to life’s challenges and questions from a gentle place with the professional support of a trained and experienced clinical social worker. Chef Pam is aware that many people, youth and adults alike, may have misgivings about attending a therapy session. In true Chef Pam form, though, she has developed an approach that has proven to help break down these barriers for many of the program attendees. She has successfully bridged her two careers and muses, “I never have felt like I left social work,” she says.

Fan/Joy has been providing Culinary Counseling, Junior Chef Classes, Dine-in and Take-out, and pre-packaged ready-made gourmet food since 2014. Amid the pandemic, Chef Pam found herself alone in the restaurant, now focusing solely on the Gourmet-to-Go delivery service and deeply missing the community that the restaurant hosted and helped to create. Seeking opportunity in a difficult time, Chef Pam found communities of other women-identifying business owners to connect with, and additionally experienced the space needed to reflect upon the future of Fan/Joy post-pandemic. With a renewed sense of “why” in terms of mission and vision, Chef Pam is in the process of re-focusing on the therapeutic-side of the business and has increased the size of the culinary studio. Fan/Joy was chosen in the fall as a recipient of the Investment Readiness Program provided by the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation for a grant of $18,000 which will be put towards creating a charitable arm of Fan/Joy that will fund youth bursaries for those looking to enroll in her Junior Chef program that might not otherwise be able to afford this kind of food education. Not only is Chef Pam currently putting dreams into action, she is continuing to build on ideas for the future of Fan/Joy. Chef Pam plans to bring her model of culinary therapy outside of her business and teach others to implement it.

“I think one of my superpowers is I’m a connector of people,” says Chef Pam, and she has found multiple ways of allowing herself to truly embody this gift. Bringing empathy and a desire to help people into a workforce often viewed as “cut-throat”, has created something new and always evolving. Chef Pam has managed to find opportunity in the face of a career change, industry learning curves, and a global pandemic. As we move out of a period of isolation and economic strain, Chef Pam sets the table for a new perspective on the de-stigmatization of therapy. To her, connection and community is the nourishment for a more joyful life.