Women chefs put food, not minority status on menu

TORONTO Fri Mar 12, 2010 11:49am EST

TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - Canadian women chefs say it is time to stop worrying about their minority status in the cutthroat restaurant business because there are plenty of other things to put on the menu.

For Toronto's top women chefs the key is to persuade diners that Canadian food is cool. Being a woman is secondary to the goal of getting people to buy, eat and enjoy really good food.

"The focus is more about creating a localized industry, in building something that is unique to our immediate environment, to advancing the notions of sustainable farming," said executive chef Anne Yarymowich, executive chef at the Frank restaurant in the Frank Gehry's renovated Art Gallery of Ontario.

At the event organized by the non-profit Women in Capital Markets Toronto's female chef showcased their talents for the financial community.

"We need to acknowledge that as chefs, as farmers, as growers, as purveyors of a local industry, we seek to support our own. The focus comes away from a gender-related focus. It becomes more about let's be Canadian, let's be local."

But Yarymowich admitted that being a woman has sometimes been an advantage during a career that has already stretched over 20 years.

"As the minority, you're represented and you're highlighted," she explained. "I think I've been riding the wave of the minority in an industry for quite some time."

Dinah Koo, a chef and caterer, said the industry has not escaped the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and the focus was now on healthy comfort food.

"The food industry and the high-end food industry have been really hit hard over the last couple of years. Certainly the trend is for more comfort food, but excellent and healthy food," said Koo, who opened what she describes as Toronto's first gourmet store about 30 years ago.

The event also included the filming of celebrity chef Christine Cushing's "Fearless in the Kitchen." The show, which runs on W and Viva Networks, documents Cushing's role as she transforms terrible cooks -- both men and women -- into fearless chefs.

The terrible cook is mentored, coached and encouraged toward a final culinary test, where the student is forced to prepare food in a highly stressful environment.

(Reporting by Jennifer Kwan; Editing by Patricia Reaney)