Marshmallow Salad & Childhood Memories: A Chat with Jenny Konkin

Jenny Konkin explores her family history via a recipe for Marshmallow Salad. Here, she reminisces about reunions, dinners, and learning to make food, Grandma-style.

Over the past 30 years, culinary trends have changed a lot. The jellied salads and whipped cream casseroles once served at big family dinners have been replaced by quinoa and kale. So, when we saw this recipe submission for Marshmallow Salad to our Hands-on Cook off, it really caught our attention.  Who is making Marshmallow Salad... and why? Jenny Konkin, President and Co-Founder of Whole Way House, that’s who.  Jenny told us that learning to make her Grandma's recipe for Marshmallow Salad is her way to honour family traditions, which in her life, centred around big meals. Jenny's brought this 'family meal' approach to help residents in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside find a greater sense of belonging and community. Enjoy this interview - it just might give you a new appreciation for marshmallows!

Better Together: What inspired you to learn to make your grandma’s recipe for Marshmallow Salad?

Jenny Konkin: In May, we had a family potluck of over 50 people. I wanted a dessert recipe that was easy, fast and refreshing, since it was a hot weekend. Also, there were tons of kids there, so we wanted a recipe that was fun and that they would enjoy too! Marshmallow Salad was the perfect choice, because it was all of those things and plus it was a family tradition.

BT: Marshmallow Salad isn’t the trendiest of recipes. Do you like this recipe more because of the family history?

JK: I love the recipe because we didn't get to eat this at home. It was a special treat when we went to grandma's for a big family dinner. It's one of those dishes that, as soon as it hits your tongue, it's like your 8 years old again standing in grandma's kitchen!

BT: Tell us how family meals have impacted your upbringing?

JK: Family meals have always been a huge part of my life. Growing up, we would get together as a family every Sunday after church and have pasta. This was a special time, as all the kids—cousins, too—in the family got to play together. These meals allowed us as an extended family to grow up together. It gave each of us a strong sense of belonging. Family meals have helped to lay out a foundation for our entire family.

BT: Can you tell us a bit about the work you do at Whole Way House at the Avalon Hotel?

JK: My brother and I took over as managers of the Avalon Hotel in 2010 when my grandma couldn't take care of it anymore. We grew up frequenting the Avalon and getting to know some of the tenants that had been living there since we were kids. When my brother and I took over, we didn't just want to be landlords; we wanted to do something more that would have a positive impact on the lives of the tenants there. As we worked there, we realized loneliness was a prominent problem that existed amongst the Avalon residents. A lot of the residents there didn't have any family or friends to interact with and found it hard to build friendships in that neighbourhood.  

So, my brother and I developed The Whole Way House within the Avalon, a place where people can come be comfortable, build relationships and talk openly, without any commitments. On Wednesday nights we put on family dinners to help the residents build relationships and prevent isolation. This has had a huge impact on the people at the Avalon.

BT: It sounds like meals are synonymous with community in your world.

JK: Exactly! When my brother and I sat down and thought about what has made us feel like we had value, family dinners immediately came to mind. We wanted to take the value of meals and bring that tradition to the residents at the Avalon. Now, we have many family oriented programs such as throwing birthday parties for the residents with cake, birthday cards and of course, we sing happy birthday.

Thanks Jenny, for sharing this lovely story! Interested in meeting Jenny? Everyone's invited to join Jenny and the residents of the Avalon at their 2nd Annual Family Picnic in the Park on Sunday August 24 from 5–7:30 PM at Prospect Point Picnic area in Stanley Park. Tickets are by donation and benefit The Whole Way House. You can enjoy games, prizes, fun and delicious BBQ grilled by chefs from Earls Kitchen! Check out Whole Way House for more information or email

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