Women in the Industry luncheon

Following a buffet-style luncheon at the Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside Hotel’s ballroom yesterday, four remarkable women stepped up to the podium.

Bavarois de Pomplemousse tray

The Canadian Chef’s Conference session was entitled “Women in the Industry“, and featured Alessandra Quaglia, Karen Barnaby, and Dana Reinhardt.

Women in the Media luncheon-28

Cate Simpson of Cate Simpson PR opened the panel with a moving talk about the (slowly!) rising role of women in the restaurant industry.

Chef Alessandra Quaglia

Alessandra Quaglia dreamed of becoming a ballerina one day. That dream faded when she unsuccessfully auditioned for the National Ballet of Canada. Boredom and constant rejection during a brief modeling career soon set in. A lifelong secret passion for cooking led her first to Denmark, and then to France.

While in France, she met “some of the most egotistical, self-centered, angry head chefs in their quest for the one (or two or three) Michelin star designation.” One female cook to about 25 to 30 cooks was the norm back then, but she was determined. Monte Carlo (Hotel de Paris) restaurateur Alain Ducasse thought she’d be “too much of a distraction for the men”.

In Marseille, she worked at a restaurant with Jean Francis (currently her husband) and his mother, known as “La Mère Marseillaise“. She knew that France wasn’t going to be “it” for her. She found her wings back in Vancouver, arriving with a confident sense of making it as a professional chef. “If I could survive in France, Canada was going to be a piece of cake”.

Through both of her pregnancies she worked in the kitchen until eight months along. 11 months after her second son was born, she and her husband “gave birth” to their first restaurant, Provence Mediterranean Grill. A year later, she realized that she’d need to embrace her place as both a mother and restaurateur. 10 years and a second restaurant (Provence Marinaside) later, she decided that dance was needed to restore balance to her life. She created the YouTube series the Dancin’ Chef, to show off her dance as well as her culinary skills.

She’s doing what she loves to do, and encourages young women to work hard, stay focused, and most importantly, stay true to themselves.

Chef Karen Barnaby

Karen Barnaby’s talk was more off the cuff, as is her nature in the kitchen. She never found a glass ceiling in her profession. Her mothers and relatives taught her to cook as was the norm in her generation. Aunts and uncles stocked feta cheese, olives, Hungarian layer cakes, and other delights in their homes; visiting them was always a pleasant curiosity.

Betty Crocker Boys and Girls Cookbook was a constant companion. She remembers watching the Italian Chef on TV preparing Osso Bucco, thinking she would never achieve what he did. His approach to food was joyous and truly sensual.

“I didn’t find this profession, it had found me.”

Her first restaurant job role was as a baker at a small café considered one of the first trendy places in Ottawa. She was amazed by the chef’s way with knives and techniques. She then realized that what she had was so special that it made her glow. She was making dishes that were eaten by other people. “What I created became a part of them. Who else can say that about their profession? No other job does that!”

Mentors such as Paul Woolford, a Mediterranean chef, used food as their message. She found the technical aspects of cuisine to be the most important in her profession. Everything had to be done properly.

“We are the keepers of the flame. The shamans that have the ability to transform food through our attitude and actions, create change in our environments and cause that ripple effect by looking into ourselves and using the essence of our being”.

One of my favourite Karen Barnaby quoteables: “It’s hard to find passion in the daily grind.”

She ended her talk by stressing the importance of carrying on the tradition of those who are our teachers. By being teachers, we are always students.

Chef Dana Reinhardt

Dana Reinhardt’s love of food has connected her to all her important relationships in her life. She fondly recalls her youth, where her “bubba” would chat in Slovak and English while pinching pierogies and baking bread. She grew to admire Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet, trying to recreate what she saw on TV with her father.

At the PNE, she dunked candied apples and deep-fried corn dogs, and loved having a job. It made her feel grown up. After completing a business degree, she managed a number of restaurants in Vancouver, and met her husband Mark, a love of food and wine connecting them.

She found a much-needed mentor in The Italian Country Cookbook. This led her to research the authors; ultimately, she sent off a resumé to the two. One week later, they invited her to come to London to work. Rose and Ruth’s success with the cookbook led to the opening of The River Café. Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers allowed Dana to sit in on kitchen meetings, helping her to learn the business. “The River Café was all about relationships, connections, and food.”

Dana came back to Vancouver to open CRU, giving cooking a serious shot for the first time. She and her husband separated but kept a business relationship. A new love literally walked through the door at CRU a few years later.

She sold her shares in the restaurant to start Sol Kitchen, a hospitality/consulting company. This allowed her to spend more time with her family. Food supply issues, slow food, and farm folk are what she’s about these days.

Her love of and connection to food has deeply touched and influenced her most beloved relationships.

Excelling in a traditionally male-dominated industry may pose a challenge to women, but these four prove that perseverance and hard work can lead to successful careers in the food industry.

Women in the Industry luncheon

View more of photos of the event here.


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