Preparing a menu for an upcoming reception of 192 people wasn’t the least bit intimidating to Rhonda Bill.
The owner of A Fine Fit Catering and Consulting was “up for the challenge” of cooking for a wedding party inside an unusual setting of a barn hayloft on a Thunder Bay area farm this summer.
“I like to say working at the tree-planting camps – which is very stressful in cooking for 75 people – and being a teacher has given me a thicker skin.
That’s given me an extra tenacity and the ability to handle high volume and stress.”
Being a professional chef and caterer has always stoked her creative fires when given unique ingredients, interesting requests or the opportunity to cook in unconventional settings.
Growing up in the northern British Columbia community of Terrace with a vegan father and a celiac (gluten-free) mother, Bill was handed the apron early on.
“My mom was so sensitive that she couldn’t be in the kitchen when flour was in the air. I was the baker from an early age and then I started doing the pasta and took over the things by mom wouldn’t be able to do.”
High school cooking classes led to a community college scholarship and then it was on to the remote tree-planting camps, waterfront resorts, and just about every restaurant in her hometown for the next decade.
Some teaching stints overseas and humanitarian work in South America and the Bahamas broadened her horizons and her love for international cuisine.
After moving to Thunder Bay in 2008 with husband Steve – a hometown boy – and a young family, Bill needed an outlet that nurtured her passion for cooking and teaching.
When Bill established her home-based business in 2010, she initially found her forté preparing and delivering wholesome frozen food for clients with special dietary needs. Since then it’s morphed into event catering, corporate luncheons, weddings, and custom cooking classes for couples, parties and companies.
“It’s been fun to get these classes going. I went from one every two months to three or four a month.”
Half of the upstairs to her home has been renovated into an enlarged kitchen with an L-shaped countertop that seats 10 for dinner parties that teach the process of cooking a four-course meal from scratch using seasonal ingredients.
“I have a focus on local, fresh food that doesn’t have preservatives and hormones.” She developed an affinity for Thunder Bay’s flourishing food culture and dived into farmers’ and fish markets to reap the unique bounty through varieties of squash, sunflower and pea shoots, nutritious microgreens, locally- raised boar and elk, and fresh pickerel.
Bill said it’s inspired and encouraged her to be creative in preparing whatever is in season.
She’s also found that a healthy local economy has produced a well-heeled clientele with a more eclectic taste.
“I find my business has evolved according to what the clientele want. Because of this growth in Thunder Bay, people are more keen to get something of higher quality. They’re willing to pay a little bit more for a better experience and a better product, and I am catering to that niche.”