MONCTON – A week ago, Dennis Prescott had to jump on a flight to Sweden to cook alongside internationally accomplished chefs like himself. That was one of the 10 countries he’s travelled to in just the last six months. But the Moncton-based author of national best-seller Eat Delicious was there for a cause.
Prescott is the World Vision Canada ambassador for anti-poverty campaign Hunger Free. He’s also part of a United Nations World Food Program (WFP) team that created the Chefs’ Manifesto, an action plan by a global chef community to drive progress towards a more sustainable food system.
The global network allows the chefs to share ideas and create tools and resources that are applicable to everyone from those who work in school cafeterias to chefs at Michelin-Star restaurants.
“If we’re not leading [the drive for a better food system] as chefs, as food leaders, there’s something wrong with that. We need to be vocal about it,” he said.
The former musician’s rise as a food writer and chef was supported by his nearly 500,000 followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Last April, he launched his first cookbook, which did well in both Canada and the U.S. and opened up new opportunities for him.
Also known as Dennis The Prescott, he is now the culinary personality for Traeger Grills. He can also be found cooking on TV for the likes of the Marilyn Denis Show, Breakfast Television and the Harry Connick Jr. Show.
“I was already actively working on social media with brands and all that stuff, but [the book] just propels it to a new level. I’m super grateful of everything that happened from that,” he said.
Although his audience can reach him through his social media, the book gives a different kind of access to his work.
“[The book] helped to realize [what I was doing] outside of the digital world because I don’t have a restaurant currently. People can’t come and eat my food like they can with other chefs. With the book they can have something that lives in their kitchen that they can recreate,” he said.
But a large online presence comes with great responsibility. That’s why Prescott jumped on board when he was offered to be part of World Vision’s Hunger Free campaign and the WFP project.
“I really believe that whether you’re speaking to two people or two million people, you have a voice and your voice is important, and you should use that voice,” he said. “I’m in a particularly unique position that I have a large voice on social media. I’ve been acutely aware of the responsibility that comes with that and I want to use it well.”
His first trip as Hunger Free Ambassador was to Kenya, where he cooked alongside families across the country, over fire and often without a cutting board.
“Every time you cook with someone, you learn something,” he said. “It’s about, wanting to inject joy and positivity and fun, while also contextualizing situations internationally with the narrative of food bringing people together. [Food] is a universal language.”
Knowing where products come from, how much is wasted if the whole animal or vegetable isn’t used, how the people making it are treated, and the impact on the planet increased his respect for food. He says even little changes can help. For instance, people can switch to buying a whole chicken rather than only certain parts of the animal.
“I’m from [Moncton], but we eat globally, so I want to tell a global food story. And people are interested, more than ever, in the journey of where their food comes from and that the people behind those products are treated as they should be.”
The travels also allow Prescott to learn and experience new flavours and ways of cooking.
“I learned how to treat products, what’s local, what’s in season. That’s especially important in places like East Africa, where there’s a huge drought for a while.”
In Somalia, he cooked a lot of camel meat because that’s what’s available in abundance. He learned different ways of cooking based on the faith practiced in each country.
In China, he tried crickets and other things that people in North America would generally avoid. He also cooked dishes he can’t recreate outside of China because the ingredients were only available there.
“My favourite thing in China was working with tofu. When you go to China and different countries in Southeast Asia, it’s more about the aging process of the tofu – young tofu, aged tofu, older tofu, and everything within the layers of that are treated very differently.”
Prescott also had eye-opening experiences tasting authentic Chinese food in Beijing, Swedish meatballs in Stockholm, and coffee at a coffee field in Kenya.
“I love tasting dishes in their origin,” he said. “It could just be picking a mango off of the tree and taste how fresh that is. And you go, ‘Oh! That’s what a mango tastes like.'”
He’s currently “obsessed” with noodles, poke and Northern Indian food that’s “jam-packed with spices.”
Although he loves to travel, his love for the Maritimes keeps him based in Moncton. And it’s not just because of the “amazing” products and people.
“I want to be here. We have a quality of life here that is kind of unmatched. I don’t know if I appreciated that when I was a kid,” he said. “Home is home for everybody, no matter where you’re from.”
Prescott continues to cook out of his own home in Moncton, but mostly does so at international events. He’s writing another book, and will continue his work through World Vision Canada and the WFP. He also continues creating recipes that are accessible.
“You don’t have to be a chef to cook beautiful food and be conscious about what you put in your body.”