Eat to the Beat chefs pose at Roy Thomson Hall in 2013.

Eat to the Beat chefs pose at Roy Thomson Hall in 2013.

Cathy Park is the volunteer Co-Chair, along with Barbara Track, of Eat to the Beat, the October 27 fundraiser for Willow. She’s also my friend and neighbour, and when she told me this was going to be Eat to the Beat’s 20th year, I asked her to go out for a coffee so I could find out more and conduct the interview below.

Information on who will be cooking this year is on the Eat to the Beat website here, also who’s pouring here, and sponsors including raffle prize donors here.

This interview has been edited for clarity and style.

Good Food Revolution: Cathy Park, what is Eat to the Beat?

Cathy Park: Eat to the Beat is the fundraiser that’s held each year at Roy Thomson Hall for an organization called Willow. Willow provides peer support for people who have breast cancer.  And they have actually just extended their reach to cover hereditary cancers. It offers free peer support for anybody that is impacted by cancer. So, it could be somebody that has had a recent diagnosis, or somebody that has a family member who has cancer. The volunteers, who offer the support, are all people who have undergone treatment themselves.

GFR: Wow. So, that’s pretty cool.

CP: Yeah it’s a great organization. What Willow does is that it helps people navigate the system. I think it’s always nice to speak to somebody who has gone through it and know what to expect. And maybe it’s not so much from the medical perspective. For instance, a lot of marriages breakdown during treatment, so it’s just about covering a lot of the issues that doctors don’t; it’s not their job.  And it’s been around for 20 years, and this year is also Eat to the Beat’s 20th anniversary.

GFR: Eat to the Beat is all women chefs, right?

CP: Yes, it’s 60 women chefs. They’ll all make one or two things and the guests will walk around Roy Thomson Hall sampling the dishes and we also have local wineries and breweries and other drinks providers. It’s a great evening. A lot of our friends like to go. First of all, because they support the cause, but also because it’s a fun way to sample food from all of these different chefs. Some of them are well known local chefs, some of them might come from other regions, like Niagara, or some of them might have catering companies. It’s a combination of sweet and savoury, and it’s a great evening that starts early, ends early and has a great vibe and great energy.

GFR: Do you know what people are cooking or is it a surprise?

CP: We do know in advance what people are cooking.

GFR: Right. I guess otherwise everyone might show up with chicken, so you would have to!

CP: [Laughs.] Yes, they do coordinate it all through a chefs committee. They’re good at that!

Eat to the Beat is known for its colourful corsets.

Eat to the Beat is known for its colourful corsets.

GFR: Okay, so how did you get involved in Eat to the Beat?

CP: Well, interestingly, my husband Andrew Bishop is a past president of Willow, but it stretches beyond that. His first wife Mary Ellen died about 11 years ago when she had breast cancer. In the beginning she was a client of Willow, and then she became a volunteer and offered peer support, and then she became a board member. When she died, she died quite suddenly. She was treasurer of the board, and a few years later Andrew was asked to join the board as treasurer, and then eventually became president. So, we have a lot of ties to the event and the organization. It’s a long history.

GFR: You are invested.

CP: Very much. The organization has really evolved. Willow now has a national reach and peer support in cancer centres in various hospitals. Or they do peer support over the phone as well as in person. They really reach all of the communities across the country.

Find out more about this good food and wine event, and buy tickets at

Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and Executive Director of Good Food Media, the company that publishes it. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.