This month, Toronto will host two awesome women-focused food events: The Dinner Party, hosted by The Drake, and Chatelaine’s The Big Dish, a day-long gathering featuring incredible female talent in the Canadian hospitality industry.
In recent years, women-focused groups and events for food- and drink-obsessives have been popping up across the country, including the Pink Boots Society (for lady beer lovers, with chapters in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto) and Women Who Whiskey (a women-only whiskey appreciation group with chapters in Toronto and Waterloo). And in 2015, Jen Agg, Toronto restaurateur and author of I Hear She’s a Real Bitch, spearheaded an event called Kitchen Bitches: Smashing the Patriarchy One Plate at a Time in response to allegations of “rampant” and “unrelenting” sexual harassment and abuse at a trendy downtown Toronto restaurant.
While some of these initiatives address sexism and harassment head on, others are creating safe and inclusive places for women to celebrate passions that are traditionally male-dominated. But there’s still more work to be done.
FLARE spoke to 10 diverse women in hospitality to learn more about their experiences with sexism and racism in bars and kitchens across Canada—and what they’re doing to help fellow female colleagues thrive. Their stories range from blatant examples of sexism to less overt instances, but they have one thing in common: these are all women who love their work and won’t let industry misogyny stop them.
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“For the most part, I’m extremely lucky, I’ve never experienced obstacles based on sexism.” —Missy Hui, chef de cuisine at Fabbrica in Toronto
As the chef de cuisine at Fabbrica, Missy Hui participated in Alexandra Feswick’s first-ever The Dinner Party back in 2012, hoping to meet new people—especially other women in the industry. She had female role models when she was coming up as a young chef, but she learned of them through books and television, not IRL mentoring. There weren’t, at the time, many women she could work for. Still, her experience in predominantly corporate properties has ultimately been positive, she says.
The kitchen at Fabbrica, a McEwan Group resto, is 50 percent female and very professional, says Hui, and she suggests that there may even be more transparency because it’s a corporate-owned restaurant. All of her recent interns from culinary schools have been women, with one student even telling her she specifically sought out a female-run kitchen.
All of the McEwan Group’s executive chefs are male, but Hui doesn’t believe that there is a glass ceiling at the company, citing the success of Ivana Raca, who rose through the ranks at North 44, McEwan’s iconic fine-dining destination, and ultimately became the sous chef at McEwan’s ONE, a Toronto hotspot.
“The guys I’ve been surrounded by, for the most part, are stand-up guys. I think it’s ingrained in the new Canadian identity where everyone is equal and progressive,” she says—but she stresses that not all corporate restaurants are the same.
“Other companies have been less focused. I wouldn’t say I had a bad experience because I was a woman, but they were less professional environments,” she says. “[Anthony] Bourdain popularized the idea that most outrageous things happen in kitchens. For the most part, I’m extremely lucky, I’ve never experienced obstacles based on sexism. At the end of the day, this is a skills-based profession. If you can do the job, you get the job.”