BY ESTHER YUEN
Barry Londry stands out from the crowd, literally. At six feet tall, he towers over most people in the Collingwood neighbourhood, yet his warm smile and kind words put people around him at ease.
Barry’s a humble expert in the kitchen and can be often found tending shrubs in the Cheyenne community gardens. He’s also well known to improvise and create delightful dishes out of discarded food materials.
Just like these dishes, Barry could have easily thrown away parts of his life, but chose to create a meaningful life for himself that has positively impacted those around him.
You see, Barry had a thriving career as a chef―but this all of this came crashing down one day.
Years before Chef Barry joined the Renfrew Collingwood Food Security Institute, Barry was just another kid growing up in the Vancouver eastside neighbourhood called Diaper Hill. His parents, who moved here from the Prairies after the Second World War, fed Barry the typical Prairie diet of meat and potatoes―and on the rare occasion, they would cook him a delicious steak dinner.
Barry’s tastebuds were more adventurous, and even though Vancouver’s population then was quite homogenous, Barry was still able to develop a palate for exotic flavours. Every so often, Barry would hang out at his friend’s parent’s Chinese restaurant, and would visit ethnic restaurants with friends.
Whenever he found a dish that he enjoyed, he would ask the cooks for the recipes. Thus began his fascination with international foods.
While cooking was a hobby, he pursued a career in sports and business during his 20s. He studied restaurant management and completed a diploma in international business. He became a ticket distributor for sports games and even managed sales for the Stanley Cup games in the 80s. He also sold cider to the States!
Barry was business-savvy, but eventually realized that he couldn’t deny his passion for cooking. After he was laid off from a job in the beverages industry, he enrolled into the top cooking school in Vancouver, and then worked across the Lower Mainland in various food services capacities. Eventually, he found full-time employment as a chef in an assisted-living seniors’ centre.
In 2005, doctors discovered Barry had dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition common among taller athletes. His heart was enlarged and was only at 13% capacity. As a result, he would often be tired and short of breath.
Determined to get well, Barry entered a recovery program. Unfortunately, weeks into the program, the heart specialist told him he was never going to be able to work again.
This hit Barry like a tonne of bricks. His life was going to be radically changed. No longer could he be independent, but had to be government-dependent, take on disability status and give up his car.
After dealing with the shock and the self-pity, he asked himself, “[Am I] going to sit here and moan or do something about [my life]?”
Barry went into action mode, and motivated himself to complete the paperwork that accompanied his diagnosis.
Soon, Barry moved into the Collingwood area. Who knew that this would be another turn in his life?
In 2008, Barry went to an open forum at the Collingwood Neighbourhood House, intending to voice his opinion about the transit system. Instead, he met Stephanie Lim, then coordinator of the Renfrew Collingwood Food Security Institute, who relentlessly pursued Barry to be involved with her programs.
He got his feet wet by building the Cheyenne Gardens with Jason Hseih and Steph, then eventually led and taught in food programs.
A few months later, Barry was asked if he could volunteer with Nadjia, who coordinated the community kitchen at Collingwood Neighbourhood House. Barry thought he would volunteer for a few weeks, but eventually became a consistent participant, assisting Nadjia run the program to this very day.
Barry is still committed to perfecting the fine art of experimental cooking. He rarely writes down any of his recipes and almost never cooks the same meal twice, but he knows how to exactly combine foods to bring out the flavours.
His friend George, from John’s Market, once said, “[Barry’s] a better cook than me!” Those who have tasted his cooking would probably give him the same type of praise.
Esther Yuen is a communications specialist and graphic designer. She is passionate about positive social change and is active with the local arts and culture scene.
Copyright 2018 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News