At just 29, Chef Zak Copeland of PREP FOOD CO., has already made his mark on the Northumberland food scene. And he’s just getting started.
Watershed Magazine: What were you doing before you opened PREP FOOD CO. in Cobourg?
Zak Copeland: After working my way up the corporate ladder of a large restaurant group, I was left uninspired. I moved to the Cayman Islands with a good friend, and we opened a prohibition-era-themed cocktail bar. We were living the dream! Five months later, Covid came crashing in. We folded the bar and moved home. In March 2020 I was back in Northumberland County for the first time in ten years with no job, but a chance for a fresh start, and by April 2021, PREP was open.
WM: How did you get started with PREP FOOD CO.?
ZC: Through connections with friends and family, I took on some private catering gigs and began collaborating with Herma’s Fine Foods, offering oven-ready dinners. They were a massive success and inspired the idea for PREP’s meal kit memberships. Herma is a mentor. She introduced me to her clientele and taught me a lot about catering.
WM: Where did you learn your craft?
ZC: I have always loved to cook. There are photos of me in the kitchen with my mom as a toddler. I learned most of my refinement and skills in Toronto, from Paul Boehmer and Josef Larita at Boehmer and Rob Rossi at Bestellen (now Guilietta).
WM: What is the key to your early and continued success?
ZC: Everything is made from scratch. We cure our own pastrami and ham, make our own pickles, and recently contracted with Happenstance for fresh bread daily. We make a killer Cuban sandwich, and our poke and roasted veggie bowls are also a huge hit. Likewise, our meal kit program has been very successful. We are very different from more familiar meal kits, in that our food is freshly prepared and all of our containers are reusable; mitigating our food waste is a top priority. We change the menu seasonally and give great consideration to all customer feedback. Currently, we are offering free delivery throughout Northumberland. We also enjoy big demand for some of our pantry items – Caesar dressing, truffle aioli, and hot sauce – we’re about to go into production on a larger scale at OAFVC (Ontario Agri-Food Venture Centre).
WM: Is supporting local important to you?
ZC: Yes! We get pasta from Soprano Pasta Co. in Cobourg, and the only mushrooms we use come from Growing Good Co. in Roseneath. We also have a 3,000-square-foot garden in Baltimore where we grow a good amount of our own produce. Our aim is to continue to localize our agriculture as much as we can while still offering enough variety for people to enjoy our food multiple days a week. More than ever before, people in our community need support.
WM: PREP is a cute shop, but it’s tiny! Do you have dreams or plans of expanding?
ZC: I’ll just say the wheels are always turning.
WM: You’re open six days a week; what is your favourite thing to do on your one day off?
ZC: We prep for our meal kits the day we are closed so I don’t take days off unless I have something planned that takes me out of town. My girlfriend and I are avid concert goers and I love to golf with my family when I can. I also spend a lot of time in the Northumberland Forest with my dog, Veronica.
WM: What’s the kitchen tool you can’t live without?
ZC: My paring knife. I use it like an Italian nonna.
WM: What’s your favourite thing to cook?
ZC: I probably make tacos better than anything else. I also love to cook seafood: fish tacos, ceviche.
WM: It’s your last night on earth, what’s for dinner?
ZC: I think I’m easy to please with food but if I had my choice, let’s shuck some oysters, eat a Caesar salad, and grill some steaks. Maybe a negroni or two and some red wine. Also, shout out to the Dave’s Double and a Diet Coke from Wendy’s!
WM: Do you cook when you have a day off or will we find you being served in someone else’s restaurant?
ZC: I always cook when I’m at home; it’s hard for me not to. I love having my friends over and cooking for them, but I also like to support local restaurants. WM: What do you love about living and doing business in Northumberland?
ZC: Northumberland is my home, my community, and I love living in a small town. When you wave to someone you don’t know, they smile and wave back.