Rural Roots Catering
Out of necessity came a successful career as a highly regarded Chef. However, Chris Shoniker, Owner of Rural Roots Catering in Orangeville, ON, did not rise to this calling in the “typical” manner. Achieving great success in the catering industry for amazing food and a high standard of professionalism, Chris used solid “on-the-job” training and education to make his dream come true.
This young family man was born in Cornwall, ON, but was raised in Orangeville. So it would be no surprise to hear that when Chris was a teenager, and looking to make his own money during the summer months, he faced limited choices. There was a bowling alley, some grocery stores, or one of the many restaurants that called Orangeville home. So off to Mary Brown’s Fried Chicken on Broadway it was! While the job itself was fairly simplistic in nature, Chris focused on learning as much as he could working in the kitchen, and moved on from there. It would just be one of a few moves in his work history that would prove to be essential for his on the job training. From there, Chris went on to work at Swiss Chalet, where there was yet more training to be had, and he began to see how working in a kitchen could become more creative in nature. Although the job and menu itself was fairly structured, Chris was finding his passion for cooking, and could begin to see the many possibilities ahead in his career. It was during this time as well, where Chris began his education in the business side of the food industry, learning skills like operations, menu design, and the other nuts and bolts of a very demanding profession. His education flourished, as Chris moved on to other opportunities at the Caledon Country Club, and then the Caledon Trout & Hunting Club. His creativity with food certainly took a positive turn when Chris was able to experiment with exotic menu items such as alligator, kangaroo, and even rattlesnake!
While Chris was gaining some tremendous hands-on training in those various kitchens, he knew he wanted to go back to school, and felt the right choice would be to attend Georgian College, and their “Culinary Management Program”. While there was definitely a cooking element to the program, there was also essential knowledge to be gained on the operations side. Courses in food costing, labour rights, WSIB, and Health and Safety, would be essential for Chris and his career goals. He realized he wanted to understand business ownership, as this was going to be where his future was headed. “Why work in an industry for 16 hours a day, all for someone else?” explains Chris, “Going into business for myself ensured that I could have my own vision, my own creative rights, and maintain a very high standard of quality in everything I do.”
So at the young age of 24, Chris purchased “Rural Roots Catering”. This particular catering business had already been established, and it presented the perfect opportunity. The previous owners were well known in the community, and Chris was able to engage in a mentorship during his first year at Rural Roots, which then enabled him to ease his way into sole proprietorship.
Now some 11 years later, Chris has continued to build and grow a highly-regarded successful catering company that produces divine food for parties of all sizes. As Chris says “We’ve done all kinds of different occasions, from very small groups to groups of over 300.” The wedding industry is of course a large portion of the catering business for Rural Roots, and they have an exclusive catering partnership with the Tralee Wedding Facility. “That doesn’t mean we can’t do other venues, and we do of course”, explains Chris, “including office parties, family reunions, backyard barbecues, and all sorts of various events. We’re able to adapt to the client’s needs, wants, and desires on every level.”
“We don’t discriminate with food, location or budget. If we can do it, we will. The main priority for us is to connect with the client’s vision, bring that vision to life, and provide the client a fantastic experience from beginning to end.” This discussion then leads us to highlight how flexible the service offerings are at Rural Roots Catering. Should a client want Chris and his team to simply come in, serve the food, and go, they can certainly make that happen. Or, if the client elects for Chris and his team do everything, from helping to choose the menu, to setting up the venue, to managing the bar, as well as clean up and take down, Rural Roots offers this as well. “We’re all about the client”, says Chris, “it’s their event, and we’re there to do as much, or as little, as they want.”
When it comes to their many service offerings, including catered weddings, large events, small groups, holiday season family dinners, office meetings, even private Valentine’s dinners, Rural Roots certainly doesn’t discriminate based on size or budget. “It’s the client’s vision, and we bring it to life”, Chris tells me. “If the client wants something that we could do, but we may not necessarily be the experts in, then we’ll collaborate with other chefs and companies to ensure the perfect fit.”
One interesting story that Chris shared while conducting this interview, was one of a bride and groom who wanted to offer a couple of specific dishes that the bride’s grandmother used to make. “I wanted to ensure that I got the recipe just right, so I asked Grandma to first send me the recipe and list of ingredients required, and then join me in our test kitchen so we could create the sample dishes together. I knew if I could get Grandma’s approval, then the bride and groom would be thrilled!”
Chris and his team are also very passionate about some of the additional services offered through Rural Roots. “Our location has a portion of the space that’s called “The Mezzanine,” says Chris, “and we use it to host small private dinner parties, as well as offer cooking lessons, and also as a space for our students to taste-test their creations.” The team also offers lessons in how to properly sharpen your knives, the correct way to cut meats, varied cooking demonstrations, and even cooking classes for the little ones! The Mezzanine is a creative addition to the space, and offers a unique way to celebrate, learn, and get a sneak peek into the excitement that is the culinary industry.
It’s with this kind of dedication to quality, innovation, and brilliant culinary skill, which makes Chris Shoniker, and Rural Roots Catering, so special!
Written by: Kelli M. Maddocks | Photography: Cory Bruyea