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Squamish remembers one of its star chefs

Jeramy Duckworth was renowned for his eccentric personality, which belied a kind, caring heart.

Friends and family remember one of Squamish's most renowned chefs as a kind man with a gruff, eccentric exterior.

On Aug. 9, the town bade a fond farewell to Jeramy Duckworth, who is best known for opening up and helming the menu at Saha Eatery, a restaurant that made its way into Yelp's Top 100 list in 2021.

At the time of his death, he was working at Squamish's beloved Salted Vine Kitchen + Bar.

Duckworth died suddenly in his home in late July.

On Tuesday, a celebration of life for the chef drew a crowd onto the downtown waterside boardwalk beside Cordelia's Locket.

Under the backdrop of the Stawamus Chief, people gathered on a sunny evening. Speakers were set up, food was placed on tables and a musician was playing. People were dressed to impress, true to the character of their late friend, who had a penchant for fine clothes.

Many had fond words for Duckworth.

But that wasn't the only time people were sharing cherished memories of the man. Before the gathering, The Squamish Chief reached out to several people who knew him.

Liesl Petersen remembers the day she met Duckworth, roughly five years ago.

She saw a new establishment was in the works, and, curious, she decided to go investigate and see if she could catch a glimpse of what was yet to come.

"When Saha was just being built, the windows were papered up. And I saw a rip in the paper. So I went up to the window, and I peeked in and I could just see these gorgeous, you know, Moroccan-style hanging light fixtures," recalled Petersen.

While Petersen was taking a look, Duckworth must've spotted her, as not too long after, he opened the door to the soon-to-be restaurant, and asked if she needed help with anything.

"I was like, 'Oh, I'm just peeking,'" said Petersen.

"He invited me in and he showed me around, and he told me his vision for the restaurant. And he asked me if I knew how to glue rubber base cove into the kitchen. And so he hired me on the spot to do that for him. And then I gave him a ride home that night in my hippie van."

Petersen would become one of Duckworth's go-to chauffeurs. He avoided the wheel, she said, because at a young age he lost friends to drunk driving.

"He was the good kind of weird," she recalled. "I was immediately just like, 'What a strange and unusual character.' And like his sense of style, his demeanour, his kind of cynical sense of humour, a little bit of a morbid sense of humour."

Petersen said Duckworth adored his dog Trucker, an Akita he probably loved more than anyone.

And, of course, there were the good times that came from food.

"He lived in a house that had a terrible kitchen. It was just an old and a dumpy little house in the Northyards," said Petersen. "And so he would come over to our house to use our kitchen whenever he had an idea that he wanted to execute. And so he would give me a shopping list, and I'd go to the grocery store. And then he would show up once I had prepped everything, and he would just slay this incredible meal for us."

Another memory that sticks out for her was the chef's sense of style.

She recalled taking Duckworth down to the city to a luxury fashion store called Leisure Center.

"He bought a plain black tuque," said Petersen with a laugh. "It looked like a tuque you could have bought at Walmart. But he spent $800 on this tuque. And he was absolutely thrilled with it. He thought it was the coolest thing, and he wore it all the time. And he would brag to people about how much he paid for it, but it was just a black tuque."

Duckworth's way of dressing also made an impression on Aaron Lawton, the chef behind the popular Sunny Chibas.

"He was super into fashion and stuff like that," said Lawton. "That was like his main thing. But I always thought he kind of looked goofy. You know? I mean, he was the guy who needed the $3,000 boots. No one knew they were $3,000 boots. Unless you are, you know, some Paris runway model."

Duckworth had a penchant for the finer things in life. He liked fine fabrics and expensive Japanese whiskey.

Lawton met Duckworth around the time Saha was opening.

Duckworth approached Lawton from the back of what is now Sunny Chibas, and told him he liked his food. The pair talked shop for a while, and it became the start of a friendship.

Lawton would later see Duckworth at Crave, an annual fundraiser for Helping Hands that gave local restaurateurs a chance to show off some of their best cooking.

"We really clicked because you know, at that point, I don't think there [were] too many real chefs in town. You know what I mean? It felt like everyone was cooking…chicken fingers out of a freezer," he said.

"We kind of fell pretty into that chef-in-arms love. And it became a pretty immediate friendship. We spent lots of hours on the phone, just chatting about recipes and stuff like that."

Duckworth also had opinions, and he wasn't afraid to let you know about them.

He could talk someone's ear off — and do so loudly, Lawton recalled.

"I think we had more of our long conversations on the phone, so I could hang up on him when I wanted to," joked Lawton. "But, no, he was really good… And he had [a] heart of gold."

However, while Duckworth had established himself as a successful chef in town, he had his share of challenges.

"Just hold your friends. Check-in on them," Lawton said.

Shannon Walls of Saha Eatery remembered Duckworth as a complex person.

"He had a tough exterior, however, he could be sweet and thoughtful, like remembering someone's birthday or what your favourite dish was and making it for you," said Walls.  

"Jeramy was a passionate chef.  When he created a new dish, he would get so excited about seeing your reaction and how you enjoyed it. That was the best pat on the back for him, I believe."

Before he worked there, Duckworth was also known to spend a fair amount of time at the Salted Vine Kitchen + Bar after his shifts at Saha.

Pat Allen, owner of the Salted Vine, said Duckworth would come in after work, sit down with a cocktail at the bar and fois gras on his plate, and hold court.

Allen remembered Duckworth as a man of culture. He was well-read, well-versed in a variety of topics, and enjoyed the finer things of life — expensive clothes, shoes, liquors, and, of course, food.

He loved classic movies, poetry, and was a people person.

Allen said Duckworth seemed set for a change in scenery, and he wound up joining the Salted Vine over three months ago.

On the job, he was a positive beacon.

"He brought a wonderful energy. He was always, always upbeat," said Allen.

And while the kitchen can be a very stressful place to work, Duckworth was able to explain things in a patient and understanding manner.

Allen remembered him as a great teacher.

"A lot of people don't have thick enough skin to work in a kitchen. And he was able to talk to people without breaking that skin. You know what I mean?" he said. "Some chefs just freak out. And, you know, yelling, jumping up and down and screaming — that kind of thing. He wasn't that type of guy at all. He was very, very soft-spoken and passionate."

The below video was shot of Duckworth in 2019, at the Squamish Farmers' Market, when he was still working at Saha.

**Please note, this story has been corrected since it was first published to say Jeramy's dog is an Akita.

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