On August 12th, Vancouver’s association for Women of Recreation, Tourism and Hospitality is putting together a one-night-only long table dinner, matching five local “Shefs” and Sommeliers with as many female VCC culinary arts students to create one fabulous wine-paired feast.
“Yes Shef!” is a one of a kind fund- and consciousness-raising event in support of WORTH‘s efforts to address issues of gender disparity in the hospitality industry, in particular in its leadership positions.
In this short interview, we pose a handful of questions to participating chef and Director of Operations at Chambar, Tia Kambas, about the motivation behind the event, and her dish in particular. Read on and discover for yourself what a more equitable future tastes like by grabbing tickets to the dinner here.
What inspired you and your WORTH partners to organize this collaborative long table dinner and how did you choose the participating VCC students?
The inspiration came from the desire to elevate women in food and wine. WORTH Association wants the incredible chefs and Sommeliers in Vancouver to be recognized for their talents. More so, we want “Yes Shef!” to act as a catalyst to encourage young women to pursue their passions in food and wine. That is why we invited female Culinary students to participate in our event, to gain practical mentorship experience.
Besides raising money for WORTH, what sort of impact do you want to make with “Yes Shef!”? How will being a part of this event benefit the participants – both the mentors and young aspiring chefs?
We know women face barriers in our industry, which is perhaps why only 17% of Culinary Leadership roles in Vancouver are held by women (WORTH Research in partnership with Tourism HR Canada). An event like “Yes Shef!” allows us to put the spotlight on women in food and wine, as well as bring them together for an important celebration. Each Chef and Apprentice will create and present a course for the dinner, with each Sommelier selecting a pairing. Yet, the event is a collaborative one, where each of us will work together as a team. Participants will benefit from this as we aim to learn techniques, and expand flavour profiles and talents from each other. No egos allowed.
What sort of conversations do you hope to open up between diners at the “Yes Shef”! long table dinner?
We imagine our guests will be so impressed with the five courses and five pairings, they won’t be saying much between bites and sips! That said, all our Chefs and Sommeliers will be presenting their courses and sharing their personal experiences, so it will be an interactive evening with the participants. Our guests will be seated long table style in Chambar’s beautiful dining room, so we hope our guests meet new people and have a wonderful evening.
What has been your most eye-opening experience and/or unexpected discovery since starting WORTH?
WORTH Association’s objective is to educate, elevate and empower women in our industries. WORTH’s founder, Joanna Jagger, conducted research on our industry’s pay gap. She discovered female managers in Vancouver restaurants are earning 88 cents for every dollar a man earns in the same role. Women comprise 70 percent of the tourism and hospitality workforce but hold less than 40 percent of managerial positions, less than 20 percent of general management roles and less than 8 percent of board positions. We know the hospitality industry is lagging behind in advancing women and we want to change that. The most rewarding part of WORTH is getting messages from young women who say “I negotiated my salary for the first time thanks to what I learned from WORTH!”
What are the biggest obstacles that are preventing women interested in the culinary arts from pursuing leadership positions in hospitality and what, in your opinion, are the steps that need to happen in order to facilitate the changes WORTH wants to see?
We are facing a labour shortage, and we need to change the rules to attract more women. For parents, this can be a challenging industry if we don’t allow for some flexibility with working hours. Chefs do not need to be in the kitchen for 12 hours a day. This is where women have a leadership advantage. Many enjoy mentorship and developing others, which can allow for them to take time off and have some balance, knowing the kitchen is in good hands. We also need to eliminate the toxic culture that many kitchens have, and eradicate harassment. We need strong leadership – from both men and women – to change the culture.
Besides events like this, how can people working in the restaurant industry provide encouragement and support to young women on a day-to-day ground level?
If a young woman is passionate about working in restaurants, she should not face barriers to reach a leadership role. We need mentors and leaders championing women at all levels. We need to hire, promote and retain women. GM’s should be asking themselves if their team is balanced, and if inclusion is a priority. There is an opportunity to shift the culture. WORTH wants to see women take a seat at the table. But in our case it’s seeing more women at the prep table, on the grill, behind the bar, or running the floor.
Lastly, tell me what you and your mentee will be whipping up for this dinner and the wine pairing that’s been selected.
I will be serving Togarashi seared tuna, pickled lotus root, tamarind, watercress and a yuzu beurre blanc. It is a light, fun and summery dish. Chambar’s Wine Director, Kelcie Jones, is pairing it with a rosé from Vancouver Island. It’s made by Unsworth Vineyards, a family-run winery named for their maternal grandmother, who was a pioneer in the Cowichan Valley.