For Merv Russell, as long as the meal has flavours you put your heart into, people will appreciate it.
Born and raised in Timmins, Russell, 62, worked as a chiropractor for more than three decades until he retired about five years ago. When he was 16, he was injured in a motorcycle accident and it was a chiropractor who got him back up. Since then, Russell knew he wanted to have his own chiropractic practice.
Russell says he enjoyed being a chiropractor but he also wanted to do other things.
He recently started working as a part-time cook assistant at The Walford, cooking for seniors.
“It’s different because there are always alternative meals that have to be prepped. The diet is different as opposed to French or Canadian cooking or Italian,” he says. “Here, very limited in salt and you have to respect that because of their needs. It’s different but it’s fun.”
He also does online cooking classes for a couple of local high schools where teachers provide the ingredients and students follow along.
Cooking has always been his background, Russell says. His mother and grandmother were camp cooks. Whenever he travelled and whenever he could, he would take cooking classes and wouldn’t shy away from helping other people in the kitchen.
“Different ideas for me are fun,” he said. “I’m a foodie, I love all kinds of food.”
For several years, he helped teach culinary classes at Collége Borèal . He also taught basic cooking skills to students who needed two credits for high school.
“I did that three years in a row, I had such a great time with that,” he says.
He has a Cooking with Merv Facebook group where his students and food lovers share recipes and post photos of their dishes.
“My philosophy is we were put on the Earth to serve, so if we serve each other well, then we can survive and we should have a better place,” he says. “I’ve been serving fixing backs, and now I serve plates.”
Russell, who once won Cottage Life’s Best Rib Recipe, welcomes feedback and likes tweaking recipes to add something of his own.
Baking for him isn’t the same as cooking as it requires patience and precise measurements. Anybody can cook, he says, but baking is like chemistry.
He strives to use local produce as much as he can. He has chickens for fresh eggs every day and a garden where he grows potatoes, celery, carrots and beets. Even if cooking healthy meals with fresh herbs takes an hour, so what, he says.
“You try to do it as much as you can so that you can show you can do that,” Russell says, pointing out it's not possible to do it all the time but he tries to.
"I'm as guilty as anybody else. I'm the king of junk food, I have a pantry and there's chips, candy, chocolate bars and cookies. However, I do like to cook."
If the pandemic restrictions allow, this summer he is hoping to hold a cooking camp for children out of his garage.
“I enjoy teaching kids,” he says. “For three or four days, we’d learn how to make bread, pizza dough, soups, sauces. And then Friday, they would invite the parents and we would cook for them.”
Nowadays, people are often too busy and opt for drive-thru food, he says, whereas he enjoys sitting down at a table to enjoy a meal.
“A long time ago, everybody sat at the table. No matter where you went: Italy, France, Poland, Belgium, Jamaica. Everybody would come to the table and I was raised that way. Everybody shared either a good event, a bad event or a feeling they have,” he says. “To me, I always enjoyed it because when we cooked, people sit at the table.”
If people want to try something different, Russell says he also offers catering services for small events.
For several years, Russell has also been volunteering with Timmins Empty Bowls. He says he enjoyed the experience of making different kinds of soups that people wouldn't be able to order at a restaurant.
"Variety is the spice of life," he says.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com