On a typical pandemic day, Stephanie Baryluk’s kitchen was bustling.
That’s because Baryluk, a Gwich’in chef from Fort McPherson, chose to turn the uncertainty of the pandemic into an opportunity.
Now, her home business, Mrs. B’s Jerky, puts out as many as 100 bags of dried beef, caribou and moose snacks a month.
That is, when she wasn’t too busy as a stay-at-home-mother. “It all depends if my kids let me make some or not,” she says with a laugh.
For Baryluk, the business is a return to her roots: Growing up in Fort McPherson, she was taught to respect the caribou from an early age. “My dad always made sure I was a part of his hunting trips,” she says. She would then watch other relatives process the harvest. “So it’s something that I grew up with; It’s something that’s always been around me.”
After studying at Vancouver Community College and getting her Red Seal certification, Baryluk worked everywhere from oil camps to hotels to seniors’ homes.
Then, after working her way up from a line cook to senior sous chef, the pandemic hit, and suddenly Baryluk was without a job.
“I think I just needed to kind of find something for myself again, and I’ve always eaten traditional caribou dry meat growing up,” she says. “And so I started making beef jerky. And for about a year and a half, I gave away everything I made. I used beef, moose, and caribou, and eventually started selling it.”
That was the beginning of Mrs. B’s Jerky, a business that’s still run out of Baryluk’s kitchen. Now, Mrs. B’s is sold as far away as Nova Scotia and Ontario. Of course, it’s also sold in her native NWT. “It’s a little more work to ship up to the Northwest Territories, but it’s definitely something that I’ll try to continue to do,” she says. “I think everybody in the North is professional when it comes to beef jerky, so any little compliment that I may get, I definitely take a lot of pride in.”
Recently, she was invited to Fort McPherson and Tsiigehtchic to teach cooking classes.
Eleven-year-old Arianna Cootes took part in a class at the Aurora College Community Learning Centre in Tsiigehtchic. With Baryluk’s guidance, the class made shrimp tostada with avocado crema, sweet sticky chicken wings, and chowmein noodles.
“It turned out perfect, and it tasted so good,” she says.
But for Baryluk, the classes were about more than just cooking: She has long chosen to live a sober life. Without this, she says, she would never have been able to accomplish any of her career goals. With her classes, she hoped to spread the message of sober living to her students as well.
“The culinary industry is very demanding and [very] stressful,” she says. “You find yourself working a lot of late nights, through the holidays. And I think having that work-life balance, and living a sober lifestyle can only benefit you.”
“For me, I’ve had a lot of support within the community, within my family and friends. And if I could be that support to someone who’s trying, then I 100 per cent do it.”
Jerky fans can find Mrs. B’s Jerky on Facebook.