A lifelong passion for culinary creation

In Our Valley: Rhea Bachand-Dawson

Rhea Bachand-Dawson getting ready to make some hot pepper jelly. (Photo supplied/Rhea Bachand-Dawson)

Rhea Bachand-Dawson, 52, has found herself engrossed in the world of food throughout her entire life.

She was born into a large French-Canadian family in Prince George where she spent nearly her entire life.

“Five kids in my immediate family and tons of cousins and uncles, a very big extended family,” she said.

Bachand-Dawson’s parents moved to Prince George as her father was getting into logging in a small area near Prince George called Fyfe Lake. Her mother, Marie Bachand, and her dad, Laurent Bachand, moved from Zenon Park, Sask.

Laurent remained in logging but as the family grew Marie decided to stay at home and raise the kids, meaning she spent a lot of time cooking. She did a lot of preserving and canning and this was the first introduction to food for Bachand-Dawson. She also learned a lot about cooking from her aunt, Celine Bachand.

“My passion has been food and cooking since I was probably about nine,” she said. “My mom did a lot of cooking in our home with five kids, but my real passion for creating fancy meals came from one of my aunts.” Celine was an adventurous cook and Bachand-Dawson learned a lot from her in developing the love for cooking.

She enjoyed her home and school life, attending College Heights Elementary School before heading off to high school at College Heights Secondary.

She had her first introduction to the food industry at the age of 15.

“I’ve been working ever since I was 15, starting out mostly in restaurants,” she said. “As a young teenager you can make a lot of money if you’re serving in good restaurants, probably too much for my own good.”

She spent much of her time in the restaurant industry serving. A few years after finishing high school Bachand-Dawson started working at Costco. She continued her work in the food industry at Costco working her way through various management positions.

Bachand-Dawson worked mostly in fresh foods moving from running the food court, to working in the bakery for a number of years and then heading into the full-service deli for a couple of years.

“Costco is a really great place to work, they promote from within so there’s a lot of opportunities there if you have the drive and the willingness,” she said.

While she was working at Costco Bachand-Dawson did cooking at home to practice her craft.

In 1996 she met Darcy Dawson, and they had a relationship but mostly maintained a friendship for about 11 years. Then in 2007 Bachand-Dawson decided to move out to Kitimat to be with her now spouse Darcy.

It was not the easiest transition for Bachand-Dawson.

“It was a bit of a struggle for a few years and to be honest I had some work struggles over the past,” she said. “I got hired at Eurocan that’s where my husband had worked and then Eurocan shut down.”

Bachand-Dawson worked in stores and first aid with Eurocan before moving into the janitorial department. Unfortunately, Eurocan shut down, leaving her without a job.

“My husband and I bought a house in 2008, a nice big house while we were making good money at Eurocan,” she said. “Then we both lost our jobs and that was kind of devastating at that time.”

Luckily their newly purchased home had a B&B in it and they ran it as a B&B for many years, helping to pay the bills. It gave her an opportunity to cook for guests.

She landed up at Snow Valley Ford as the finance manager, a job that she loved very much.

However, there was another hiccup when Kitimat’s modernization project wrapped up and sales slowed down, something that was difficult for Bachand-Dawson as she was in a commission-based job.

She worked two other jobs over the next little while and ran into a tough year in 2021.

Bachand-Dawson’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She also suffered from Alzheimer’s and passed away in May 2021.

She realized it was time for a change of pace following her string of different jobs and the loss of her mother.

“Rather than rushing back into the corporate jungle I decided to take a little bit of a well-needed break from that, I’ve been working very hard since I was 15 years old.” she said “I need to focus on something that brings me joy in my life.”

Bachand-Dawson decided it was time to launch her own business, an idea that built on her love of developing recipes, as well as preserving and canning.

Bachand-Dawson and her husband had been smoking cheese as a hobby for approximately seven years and wondered if they could sell some of the cheese to offset the cost.

“I started putting together these cute little charcuterie boxes and giving them to friends and family and it just kind of took off from there and people just loved it,” she said.

Thus Sweet Cheezuz was born, it incorporated two of Bachand-Dawson’s favourite things, smoking cheese and creating a hot pepper jelly that pairs well with the cheese.

There are boxes of various sizes from a smaller box to what Bachand-Dawson calls an epic box. They range in price as well and contain items such as crackers, meats, pretzels, spreads, jams and chocolates.

She is also working casually at Northern Health doing laundry and stores.

Bachand-Dawson has enjoyed her time here in Kitimat and plans to not only continue her business but to retire here as well.

“I thrive in a small town environment much more than a city environment,” she said.

She also enjoys getting out in her 1982 camper that she calls “The Rock”, she however, never gets very far in the old camper.