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Where are they now? Mona Mathews cooks her way from the Valley to Lake Simcoe cottage country

Yvonne Lewis Langlois

Sometimes on life’s journey there are some unexpected turns in the road, and so it was with Valley girl Mona Mathews. Mathews, a personal chef, presently resides in Georgina County, Ontario, but she was born on the Rockburn/Dewittville Sideroad and grew up on a dairy farm with a 500-tree apple orchard. Her great-grandfather came from Ireland around 1841 and bought the piece of land where the farm is today.

Mathews has seven sisters and two brothers. She remembers that cooking was always a huge part of family life. Her mother had a large vegetable garden which the children helped plant, weed and harvest. While her mother cooked, her brothers and sisters were her sous-chefs, “chopping, washing, getting things ready, setting the table and cleaning up afterwards,” remembers Mathews. There were many large family suppers around the big kitchen table.

 

Cooking for the family: Mathews and her mother, Rita Steele, bake bread in Rockburn in 1973. PHOTO Courtesy of Mona Mathews

 

After graduating from Chateauguay Valley Regional High School (CVR), Mathews traveled to Montreal to work at Sun Life Insurance, where she was employed for one year. But when a friend discussed moving away, she decided to move also. At age 18 she left for Toronto with only a small suitcase of belongings to her name.

Shortly after her move she was once again working at a Sun Life office when she met Jim Mathews. When she turned 20, they were married. The couple went on to have two daughters, and she left her job to stay at home with them while they were small.

As the children grew, Mathews decided to go back into the workforce and was employed in an office for the next 17 years. When her oldest daughter had her first baby, Mathews made the decision to retire and stay home to take care of her granddaughter.

The time came when her daughter was expecting a second child. Mathews considered being present at the birth. Her daughter and son-in-law welcomed the idea, so Mathews was present for the birth of her grandson.

Mothering the mother

“It changed my life!” she says. Her son-in-law had commented that he found her presence at the birth comforting; Mathews decided then and there to follow a new path. She searched online for “birth companion” and the word “doula” appeared – a word she was unfamiliar with, so she investigated it further.

“Doula” is from ancient Greek and means “a woman who serves.” Mathews studied for two years to become certified. A doula’s role during childbirth is not a clinical one like that of a doctor or midwife. “A doula educates, informs and supports with comfort measures during labour,” explains Mathews. There are also post-partum doulas who support the family after the birth. “We are there to mother the mother” she says.

“It seemed natural to me [to cook for new families]. I’m a nurturer by nature.” She enjoyed supporting them; she also washed dishes and performed light house cleaning to give the new moms time to bond with their babies. Eventually families would hire her to help post-partum. She attended fewer births, and cooking for others became a central part of her job. Mathews would prepare meals for the families, often stocking their freezers as well.

After 10 years of being a doula, Mathews realized that the 3 a.m. calls to the birth room were not her favorite part of the job – cooking for others was.

A focus on cooking

This realization would take Mathews down yet another path. “I wanted to work in a professional kitchen,” she states.

She took a job in a café for a short time. Then she enrolled in culinary courses and received certificates in Safe Food Handler and Smartserve. Having achieved these, she set her sights on another goal: “I wanted to own my own business,” she says.

She created Mona’s Cottage Concierge, a business which would offers services to cottagers around Lake Simcoe. Her idea was to open up cottages for city dwellers from Toronto who come up for the weekends. She would prepare meals for them in their kitchens and stock their refrigerators.

 


Mathews with some of her sisters. From left: Mona, Donna, April, Darlene, and Fay. PHOTO Courtesy of Mona Mathews

 

Then, just as her advertising flyers were being printed, she was offered a job as chef at Loretto Maryholme, a beautiful retreat house on Lake Simcoe. The house hosts various organizations and individuals for spiritual retreats. Mathews prepares all the meals that are served to the different guests that come every week, as well as working for other clients as a personal chef.

Since October 2020 the retreat has been shut down due to the pandemic, but it is starting up again for what promises to be a busy summer.

During the pandemic shutdown, Mathews saw the opportunity to fulfill yet another ambition: to create her own cookbook. She did so and received the first copies from the printer on December 8. By Christmas she had sold 300 copies. One dollar from each cookbook sale goes to the local food pantry.

Mathews has travelled down many roads to satisfy her ambitions. “I’ve not been home [to the Valley] – and I still call it home – for almost two years because of COVID. I miss my family!” she says. She hopes to visit with her sisters soon. I’m sure that there will be cooking involved.
You can purchase Mathews’ Cookbook by emailing her at monamathews7@gmail.com.

Mathews is also on Facebook and Instagram at Mona’s Cottage Concierge.
She publishes articles and recipes at lakesimcoeliving.com.

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