ow you do anything is how you do everything. This is one of the six core values of iQ Food Co, which has now become a staple in Toronto as a restaurant that focuses on nourishment and fresh, nutrient dense ingredients. Christine Flynn, the Executive Chef and partner of iQ Food Co., has been operating behind the scenes at the popular Toronto-based hotspot, and says controlling chaos has become sort of her superpower.
With lockdown measures tightening up in Ontario due to the COVID pandemic, Flynn joins me over Zoom where I am transported to her kitchen in Beamsville, Ontario—a southern shoreline town near Niagara Falls.
Some may consider Flynn a jack of all trades: an independent mother to twins, an executive chef, a new author of the book How to Eat with One Hand, and now embarking on a new journey with garment-making. Flynn yields dynamic experience when it comes to working life, and she shares some insight on how to hone in and take control of the chaos. “Things pass,” she tells me.
There is no clear cut recipe for success, but trusting the process of her journey has launched Flynn into new territory with her work. “Sometimes you just don't have a choice; that's definitely a part of my story. Sometimes I get into situations because I've made bad decisions. Sometimes the world does stuff, but I definitely have a lot of faith in myself at this point in time in my life.”
“The things that—whether they're internal or external—are really difficult, or the things that you really struggle with, if you can figure out or tap into them and take control of those things…they really can become your superpower too.”
Perfecting any sort of recipe requires trial, patience, and ultimately error. Flynn’s catalogue of work invites us to consider a more curious approach to vocation. An outlook that, for Flynn, prioritizes raising two small children and creating a lasting impact wherever she goes. “There's no before, there's no after, we're all just during.
One of the biggest gifts that being a mother has given me is just an increased sense of empathy,“ Flynn says. “Being a little bit less guarded, and really trying to cultivate good habits and being positive is really what I'm doing right now. But I wouldn't say I have balance. I would say that I am, like most people, surviving right now.” Having known what it feels like, more or less, to be in survival mode, Flynn leaves us with a hot tip: use what you already have. She implies that the tools are already available for people to use—whether it's the knowledge or the skills to adapt, both in hospitality and in motherhood—there are unspoken requirements. Being able to use resources efficiently, challenging new perspectives, and learning as you go are the key ingredients to achieving some sort of balance. “I do a lot of different things. So that, to me, is helpful.” She further explains, adding, “When I have a project that's maybe a little bit more stressful —[for example], I'm doing a lot of writing, and I don't particularly enjoy sitting down or being in front of a computer at all—I'll take a break and go test a recipe. Anytime I can get my hands on something is very grounding to me.”
A part of that grounding process for Flynn is supporting her communities in a tangible way. One of those ways is through initiatives like Solve It With Salad, a solutions based initiative by iQ Food which aims to source organic produce, inform folks of the benefits of regenerative agriculture, and actively help reverse climate change.
Flynn encourages people to think about the impact we can make by being a little more conscious with what we eat and what we wear, and how that directly affects communities that suffer due to environmental-capitalism.
“Creating awareness around solutions is really important to me. It's [the marginalized communities] who are going to suffer if we don't fix [climate change],” she says. "These are the communities who are already under a lot of pressure. It is really important to me to figure out ways to create solutions and to get people on board.”
Flynn poses a question that I don't think she even knew she was asking: how can we show up in our communities as a “real” person? Of course there is an element of playfulness and an implied air of existentialism when considering how to show up in real life when there has been a collective shift happening within the world in real time. The global shift to online spaces has created a divide, all while becoming one of the greatest tools of our generation; the link between social media and heightened anxiety has become a non-negotiable factor for those who are spending time online. She emphasizes the importance of intentional practice in these spaces.
“What I would like to do with my work, and [with] the person that I'm trying to be everyday, is to give people a reason to kind of get up and participate. To feel like you don't have to overhaul your life at this point, but you can make small and meaningful changes by just being a little bit more thoughtful about what you buy, where you buy, and how you use it. I don't think that that's too much to ask anyone, but I do think that you get more bees with honey.”
Having been in the hospitality industry for nearly two decades, being tactile has helped Flynn manage feelings of anxiety that she sometimes experiences in online and offline spaces. As a result, she started sewing and garment-making as a means to bring a little bit of joy around her.
“I wanted to find ways to be happier and to make other people happy,” she says. “And to just put a little bit more joy into my life. When you put on a piece of clothing that you made, like a horse jacket, you just feel good and other people feel good looking at you!”
For Flynn, understanding the impacts of being intentional opens up the opportunity for vulnerability—which invites a more curious way to learn. She leaves us to consider learning as a skill and a tool. "People will say to me, ‘Oh, you're so talented.’ And I’m like well, not really! Because talent is something you're born with and god knows, I wasn't born with much of that,” she laughs. “But the idea of learning as an adult—anyone can put a seed in the ground, anyone can sow a seed, you know? It’s just building off these little things. And actually, in many ways, returning to that childlike sense of possibility.”
The chef emphasizes the importance of play and mindfulness when approaching tough tasks, and she presents a bit of a paradoxical view of resting by staying busy. “I have a really hard time resting, which is at odds very much with slow living,” she reveals. “As a young cook, being asked to work in unreasonable and extreme situations, [it] really did prepare me for being a parent. But in other ways that also traumatized me, and I’m still kind of like working through some of that.” With a little faith, consistency, patience, and childlike sense of possibility, Flynn was able to emerge as one of Toronto's most celebrated chefs, all while controlling the chaos. “It is one of those things where you have to work hard, and you have to maybe not take the same route, which I definitely have not. My career has not been a straight line, but it's been a big zigzag. Personally, I like that better,” she confesses. “I think it's more fun to kind of be like, ‘Okay, you guys, take the straight line and I'll just be over here. I’m working on my own thing, I'll meet you at the top.’”