Growing up in Saskatoon, my first exposure to female culinary professionals that I can recall, was through Food Network Canada’s first generation of programming. Christine Cushing, Anna Olson and Lynn Crawford were cooking with technique while I was still trying to figure out how to get the macaroni from my Kraft Dinner box al dente.
As I got older and discovered more about the restaurant industry as a whole, I began to realize that things seemed rather unbalanced. Male chef “personalities” dominated food media and women were, more often than not, depicted to be weaker in the kitchen either by way of editing or production concepts (lest we forget the cringeworthy “male versus female” theme of Season 4 of Top Chef Canada).
For the past few years on International Women’s Day, one of Canada’s largest gatherings of female culinary professionals has been in Winnipeg. Organized by Kelly Cattani, chef/owner of the catering and consulting company Bluestone Cottage, the fourth Women, Wine and Food fundraiser is set to feature more than 20 female chefs at the Manitoba Museum on Saturday.
Ms. Cattani herself is a long-time fixture in the Winnipeg food scene, but not one who spends much time in the limelight – save, perhaps, her 2014 regional win in the Gold Medal Plates competition (now known as Canada’s Great Kitchen Party). Chatting with the chef, though, one is quick to discover that she is an adamant supporter of the Winnipeg food community as a whole. You can tell by the genuineness in her words that she is the talented, silent type who helps those around her grow, and never one to seek thanks.
“We have so many women in the industry here doing amazing work, but I think they might not seek the spotlight as much as other folks do,” Ms. Cattani says on why she started the annual event. “They just work hard and, most of the time, I don’t even think they hope somebody notices. They just want to do a good job.”
The chef said she conjured up the idea for this all-female culinary event in December of 2016 after talking with a friend who was working at the Women’s Health Clinic. Wanting to do something to support the clinic by way of her cooking, she quickly assembled a small lineup of chefs and executed her inaugural all-female event – which sold out well before it took place – less than three months later in March, 2017.
Since then, the event has tripled in size, and this year there are even more chefs involved. Familiar faces such as Talia Syrie (The Tallest Poppy), Christa Bruneau-Guenther (Feast Cafe Bistro) and Pamela Kirkpatrick (Forth) are returning to serve up elegant food at the canapé-station-style fundraiser alongside other lesser-known but talented chefs such as Melissa Makarenko of Peasant Cookery and Jessica Young of Diversity Food Services.
“I’m really proud of the ladies that have participated in it over the years,” Ms. Cattani says. “I am glad that we’ve been able to offer this avenue for them to showcase their culinary prowess and show off their skills [that] they might not always be able to do during their day-to-day at their restaurants.”
Last year’s Women, Wine and Food fundraiser for Winnipeg’s Women’s Health Clinic raised $40,000, and the chef says she hopes to do the same again.
In the Okanagan, chef and pop-up event extraordinaire Aman Dosanj is also prepping for her fourth annual International Women’s Day event, in which four Canadian female chefs join her to create a thoughtful wine-paired dinner.
Each year, the chef donates all profits to local charities. The idea was originally born both of a friend’s step-daughter’s death and a desire to promote equality.
“Yes, this is an all-female lineup, but it’s also about shining a light on talented people who may not have been seen or been asked to headline before,” Ms. Dosanj says. “I love having an underdog, like myself, on the lineup, as well as people from different culinary backgrounds.”
Next Sunday, chefs Andrea Callan (Red Fox Club, West Kelowna), Dana Ewart, Christine Sandford (Biera, Edmonton) and Kelsey Johnson (Café Linnea, Edmonton) will converge at Liquidity Wines in Okanagan Falls and help raise funds for Foundry Penticton, Foundry Kelowna, South Okanagan Women in Need Society and Slow Food Canada.
“I’ve been in kitchens where I’ve been told I shouldn’t use a chef’s knife because I have ‘small hands and I’d cut myself.’ ... Things [like that] are still being said and done, but we’re now talking about it. That’s a huge step,” Ms. Dosanj says. “It’s important to remember how others have made you feel and try to make things right.”
A second annual International Women’s Day dinner event is also set to take place in Calgary at Donna Mac on March 8. Hosted by the restaurant’s owner/general manager Amy Turner, the six-course, wine-paired dinner boasts an all-female lineup that includes chefs Liana Robberecht (WinSport Canada) and Katelin Bland (Lulu Bar and Bridgette Bar) as well as sommelier Karen Kho (owner, Empire Provision), bartender Madeleine MacDonald and many more.
Because it is part of a citywide dining campaign, the event does not serve as a community fundraiser like the other two initiatives, but it still brings together female professionals of different food and drink fields to showcase their skills.
Regardless of the shape, size or cause of these International Women’s Day events, Ms. Cattani says, "For our event, the feeling in the room is absolutely unbelievable. Everyone is so happy to be there and the chefs are so happy to be part of it,” she says. “At the end of the day, it is all about joy, food and a good cause. That’s what makes it [worth doing each year].”
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