Interview with Joshua Hendin of Treeline Catering
You have a degree in philosophy, you worked in clubs in London, England, were a ski bum in B.C. and trained as a commercial helicopter pilot. You are an avid horseback rider, polo player, skeet shooter, long distance race car driver and one of the most beautiful style-canoeists I’ve ever seen.
Adam Waxman: How does one with the sense of adventure and style of James Bond channel that joie de vivre into catering?
Joshua Hendin: That’s all very flattering, thank you, but you missed the part where you and I met, at a children’s camp in Algonquin Park owned by a renowned foodie. And so, it seems that enjoying finer fare in unusual places has been a lifelong pursuit; my raison d’etre. Many chefs and restaurateurs communicate through food, and I suppose I modify that by adding various locations into the experiences I create for people. In my personal life, with a group of friends that are similarly epicurean, we’ve carried ingredients deep into the wilderness to create the perfect Al Limone pasta; or heaved a pizza oven to the horse farm to bring friends a Neapolitan pizza. I do hope that a certain panache is expressed to our guests as they bite into something truly special.
AW: What was the factor in your life that made you say, “I want to go into the kitchen and cook for people?”
JH: Oh, well, I was flat broke. Not being able to pay your bills is a fantastic motivator! I’d been barely making a go as a commercial helicopter pilot in Whistler at the time, when somehow, I got my hands on a contract for a plated dinner for a few thousand people. The rest, as they say, is history…
AW: What distinguishes Treeline Catering?
JH: Our long history with high profile clients such as Cirque Du Soleil and larger projects like the Pan Am Games, gives people confidence that we can execute their wedding for 100 persons without raising anyone’s pulse. After almost 15 years in business, we’re no longer the new kid on the block. There is a gentle confidence that comes across to the guest that is hard to describe, but is palpable.
AW: How do you source ingredients?
JH: Treeline catering was a pioneer in environmentally-sensitive catering at our outset, and it’s warming to see that so many of our peers have followed suit. We never purchase anything at all from the large-scale distributors, preferring to find local purveyors of fresh seasonal ingredients everywhere we go. All of us doing ‘our part’ is what’s needed to make any real difference in our environmental snapshot. We do that, and then some. Every choice we make has some consideration of its environmental impact, from where we are getting our ingredients, to staff uniforms, and to what we’re doing with the waste.
For a small business, I think we’ve given back much more than is reasonable to expect. We’ve written cheques to school building projects in Central America, and then gone down with shovels to get the work done. We donate to local shelters on a regular basis, and give jobs to people with developmental issues too. That’s part of the culture here. Treeline has never been about ‘business’ first. It’s a lifestyle for me, but truly, I try to make it so for all of the people that work and live here. And that is the reward that I think any business owner can relate to. When your team are able to live comfortably, and they feel excited to give to others through their place of work, that’s when I feel proud of my job.
AW: Does the intensity and rush of your hobbies prepare you for the mindset and pressures of catering events?
JH: Yes, actually. By its nature, large scale catering is a pressure game. You have to perform no matter the circumstance, time and again, to develop the reputation, the trust from your clients to pull off ever more daring feats of hospitality, of culinary craftsmanship. So much focus is built on the hour of service, but a guest doesn’t see the logistical Jenga that’s required. What power is available on site? Can we get a certain size of vehicle onto a particular property to carry the tools the chef really wants, or do we have to make an alternate plan to achieve the same on-the-plate goal? When it’s an on-site wedding for 150 guests or so, the team is so well-rehearsed that all of these questions have quick answers. But occasionally, pre-covid of course, we are called upon to execute meals for thousands of guests, and there is certainly a real thrill in that.
AW: You’ve catered for diverse clientele: Facebook, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev; as well as countless weddings. What is your process?
JH: I’ve found that most of our high-profile clients are big enough to be small. Ego rarely comes into play, and when they’re coming to us for food-service, they’re most often concerned more with the overall quality of the meals, and our ability to serve them on a strict schedule, at whichever location they’re requesting—a stadium, a private jet—than to have something esoteric. More often than not when we get these calls, from The Queen of Jordan say, it’s to have something that makes them feel comfortable, and so there can be a 1-on-1 chat with one of our chefs to make sure we’re delivering exactly that. We provide luxury product—design-forward modern takes on classics. Almost all of our work is custom. Rarely are two events ever the same. I often say we are building a house every time we go to work. We do a site inspection, gather the materials, and check the designs before beginning construction. I get high on the art direction of it all. Foremost: What is the guest experience? The details fall from there. What do the plates look like? What are the staff wearing? The lighting, and on and on.
AW: Recently you’ve expanded your business to include Tofino as well as Toronto.
JH: The sagest advice I’ve ever received is to always say “Yes” to opportunity, so when a series of coincidences led to an opportunity at The Shore Pier in Tofino, BC, I just had to say “YES!” I fell in love with Tofino when I first visited in my early 20s. Being able to work here now has been a 20-year dream come true. My team and I are beyond excited to share things we’ve learned over the years with the Tofino area, and our wedding venue here is truly spectacular: a gorgeous room literally over the waters of Clayoquot Sound.
AW: How else have you transitioned from pre to post pandemic?
JH: Owning a business that specializes in larger social events has been almost comical for the last 2 years. I just had to laugh at it all, because there wasn’t much else I could do but wait it out. I moved near the farm where I keep my horses so I could ride them every day, bought an old truck to tinker with, and cooked fancy pizzas for just about everyone I know. Having my long-established business near decimated was very stressful. Now things are rushing back to a pre-covid frenzy. I imagine I’ll remember that time fondly.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.