My father was an incredible cook. When he constructed a meal, like his orange-glazed Cornish game hens, it was an event, mainly because his culinary endeavours required him to dirty every pot, pan, and square inch of counter space in the kitchen — leaving Mum to begrudgingly clean up after him. When I got my first job as a restaurant dishwasher, and I was the only person in the kitchen with two X-chromosomes, it felt like home.
For the 19 years that I worked in the industry, seeing women work in the back of the house wasn’t unheard of, but it wasn’t common. The one female head chef I worked with was a metaphorical unicorn.
That was years ago. Times have changed, right?
Most Ottawa foodies know the names Steve Mitton, Marc Lepine, and Stephen Beckta but they might not know the names of the women in leadership roles in the Ottawa food and beverage industry — women who run breweries, bakeries, restaurants, cooking schools, and one who is the Prime Minister’s personal chef (the first woman to ever hold that position).
The names Laura Behzadi, West De Castro, Katie Ardington, Natali Harea, Kathryn Ferries, Anna March, Patricia Larkin, and Holly Laham might not be on your radar yet, but the Women in Industry event aims to change that.
The 2nd annual event, a dinner hosted at Clover Food and Drink on International Woman’s Day (March 10), is a seven-course dinner, with beer pairings, that aims to shine a spotlight on some of the most creative and talented women working in the Ottawa food and beverage scene. The proceeds of the event go to Eco Equitable Ottawa, a charity with a mission of providing a bridge to social and economic integration for people in need, especially immigrant women.
I spoke to Laura Behzadi and Katie Ardington about their experiences working in the industry, and what the Women in Industry event means to them.
There are so many talented women working in this city that we’ve never heard of. Do you see this event as a chance to showcase some of the women in Ottawa’s food and beverage industry?
Katie Ardington: I agree, there are many talented woman in the food and beverage industry in Ottawa and many that have been doing a great job for quite some time. This event is exciting as it’s a chance for some of us to celebrate International Woman’s Day as a group, doing what we love — feeding people and making them happy, as well as to raise funds for a fantastic woman’s charity like Eco-equitable.
Laura Behzadi: This is a chance to really highlight the impact they’re [women] having … it’s important that we continue to push for that recognition.
Katie, a year ago you hosted Le Club des Chefs des Chefs (personal chefs to world leaders). Did you meet other women who do what you do? Were the “chefs des chefs” mainly men?
KA: The majority of the chefs were men in this club. I did get the honour to meet Cris Comerford — who is the chef of the White House. She has had the opportunity to cook for four presidents so far, which is pretty incredible.
Do you find a difference in communication styles between men and women in leadership positions in the industry?
KA: I’ve had experience in both but wouldn’t say that one gender-lead or [female] majority kitchen is better than the other. It’s more [about] the type of people or managers, who can have the larger impact of how that work environment runs.
Laura, the craft-beer industry is still a male-dominated one. Have you encountered any unique challenges or benefits to being a woman in this field?
LB: Definitely, challenges as well as wonderful opportunities. Because I opened the brewery with my husband, I’ve been referred to as “Bicycle’s wife” or “the brewmaster’s wife” on more than one occasion when really, that’s not the case at all. Yes, I started a business with my partner but that doesn’t make me “the wife” of the business but rather the co-founder, co-owner, brewer, and everything in between. Just as everything else in the brewery, we share the brewing, recipe creation, operation, paper work, HR, graphic design … everything 50/50 and it’s frustrating to be overlooked in such a demeaning and condescending way. I left my career, just as my partner did, to operate the brewery full time and this is my new career. Gaining equal recognition and being regarded as a contributing, thriving aspect of the brewery is important to me.
Is this event something that you might try to do a few times a year or were you specifically interested in making it an International Women’s Day event?
LB: The plan is to continue to make Women in Industry an annual event that grows every year. We wanted to create an opportunity to showcase the talented women in Ottawa as well as celebrate International Women’s Day. What better way that to treat yourself to a night out to a dinner created by women and in celebration of our accomplishments in the industry?