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Remembering Gail Hall: A champion of local, a chef who fed souls

Time:2016-11-19 10:01wine - Red wine life health Click:

local chef Remembering Gail Hall

Gail Hall didn’t fight her cancer. For eight years, she lived with it.

Boy, did she live.

When she wasn’t teaching cooking classes in her loft apartment, she was in Italy — or Greece, or India, or Nova Scotia — touring with groups of ardent foodies. You might find her stirring the pot with CBC’s radio hosts, or dancing up a storm at Jasper’s seasonal celebration of food and wine, Christmas in November. 

A Red Seal chef, caterer, broadcaster, cooking school owner, food writer and educator, Hall was a champion of Edmonton’s 104 Street and a fierce supporter of all things local.

“If you lose a leg or get diabetes, you don’t battle. You learn to live with it,” recalls Jon Hall, her husband of 34 years.

When it came to Gail Hall’s breast cancer, that’s exactly what she did.

“She just worked it into her life. (When she was being diagnosed), she had to have a biopsy. She told the doctor, ‘No, I’m going to Italy,’ and the doctor said ‘We’ll do it the day you’re back.'”

When Gail Hall died on Nov. 16, at age 65, she had just returned from a weeklong culinary tour of Nova Scotia (one of 34 tours she conducted over in 20 years), and her calendar was filling up for November and December.

Despite her increasing ill health, Hall continued teaching cooking workshops in her loft on 104 Street, and she had holiday cooking classes on deck for later this month at Metro Continuing Education, where she taught for 30 years.

Though an accomplished chef, Gail was self-taught and something in her wanted that piece of paper. She was past 60 when she challenged the Red Seal cook exam.

Naturally, she nailed it.

The youngest of three children born and raised in Toronto, Gail Silverberg Hall came west for love after meeting Jon while both were on a course in Ottawa. The two had no kids of their own, but were close to their 17 nieces and nephews. Career was important in the Hall home, and when they were first married, Gail had a stressful job working in immigration resettlement. It was meaningful work, but she longed for a change. Because Gail was an excellent cook and enthusiastic entertainer, Jon suggested she might enjoy catering.

“She loved (catering) from the very first minute,” recalls Jon. “Her first order was a cake in the shape of a house for a mortgage-burning. She was thrilled by the positive feedback she got from feeding people good food.”

From 1998, Gail Hall and a gingerbread house.

From 1998, Gail Hall and a gingerbread house. Supplied / Postmedia, file

After careful research, Gail launched Gourmet Goodies, which she built from a home-based business to a $3-million-a-year operation with 100 employees. Through her travels and the catering company, Gail brought new food trends to Edmonton.

“She was a year and a half ahead of everybody else with arancini,” says Jon, recalling when Gail put the Italian rice balls on the menu at Gourmet Goodies. “When we went to Santa Fe, she brought back Tex Mex and there was a mini-revival after she talked about it on CBC. Suddenly, everybody was asking for southwestern cuisine.”

Gail closed Gourmet Goodies in 2003, then two years later launched Seasoned Solutions Loft Cooking School out of her home, a converted warehouse loft on 104 Street where she inspired more than 2,000 students over the years.

She was, as fellow food writer Mary Bailey says, “the queen of 104th Street.” A regular customer of Credo café, Gail could be spotted most Saturdays during the outdoor season at the City Market — kibitzing with vendors, hugging friends, selecting bright bunches of red and gold beets from Sundog Organic. She never fully got her hair back after chemotherapy and was inevitably wearing a cool hat and matching scarf, and a slick of bright red lipstick.

An ardent volunteer, Gail served on the board of Theatre Network and the Chamber of Commerce. She was an adviser to food and nutrition programs at NAIT, and also taught cooking skills to young mothers at the Bissell Centre.

Gail won many awards, including a YMCA Women of Distinction award, the Pinnacle Business Award, and the Mayor’s Award for Sustained Support for the Arts. She was a judge for countless community food competitions, including the annual Gold Medal Plates contest in Edmonton, and the Babas and Borsch Festival in Andrew. 

But for the wider community, Gail may best be remembered as a champion of the local food movement.

In her classes and at conferences, as a presenter for 23 years at Christmas in November food and wine festival, writing for Avenue Magazine, while food columnist for CBC radio, or doing chef demonstrations for local TV stations, Gail pushed local.

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