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Enlightened Eating: Chef Jennifer Dewasha on Changing Kitchen Culture

Chef Jennifer Dewasha
1 year ago

When you think of Canadian cuisine, what comes to mind? Many of us are well-acquainted with poutine, maple syrup, and Montreal-style bagels, but what about seal meat, jellyfish, or pickled cattails?

On October 18, indulge in an adventurous meal that steps off the well-trodden path of Canadian cuisine with The Enlightened Feast, a unique culinary event curated by former-line-cook-turned-journalist Ivy Knight. Inspired by the new exhibition Savour: Food Culture in the Age of Enlightenment, Knight brings together some of the industry’s top talent to explore the new age of enlightenment in the worlds of cuisine and food culture through a feminist lens.

The evening kicks off with a small ceremony of thanksgiving by Catherine Tammaro, Wyandot Small Turtle Clan Tradition Keeper and artist, followed by a thought-provoking on-stage conversation between Knight, New York Times best-selling author Sheila Heti, and long-time Anthony Bourdain collaborator Laurie Woolever.

The main course of the evening will follow, as an all-star lineup of chefs brought together by C.L.A.M., the Confederacy of Love and Acceptance Among Mammals, cook up a feast that highlights some of Canada’s richest and most interesting foods and flavours.

We chatted with Jennifer Dewasha, one of the C.L.A.M. chefs and Chef de Cuisine at ONE65 in San Francisco, about equality in the kitchen, the importance of food and community, and what she’ll be cooking up for the feast.

C.L.A.M.’s mission is to change the patriarchal nature of restaurant culture. What does equality in the kitchen look like for you?

Equality shouldn’t be gender based. I try to find diversity in restaurant teams and hire people based on attitude and enthusiasm to learn more. People from different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds balance out the kitchen brigade.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a feminist chef? Do you have any advice for women chefs entering the restaurant business?

First off, I would like to clarify that I am a female chef not a feminist chef. I am proud of my accomplishments overcoming gender biases in kitchens. I chose to work in kitchens with chefs who encouraged diversity and equality. If people don’t treat you fairly or there is any harassment going on, leave immediately. You can find better opportunities with people who will treat you with respect. Have the confidence to work with people who are professional. You should love your workplace because as a cook you will spend a lot of hours there.

In a past interview, you spoke about taking part in large family gatherings during your childhood in the Wahta Mohawk Nation community north of Toronto. How has that experience influenced your point of view as a chef?

My family members would host community parties in the summer months.  It wasn’t traditional or ceremonial, it was just people getting together to have a good time over food. My uncle would slaughter a pig from the farm and cook it over the fire with a caldron of corn. My mother and grandmother would make desserts. As a family and community we worked together to bring these events to life.

This experience extended into my culinary career participating in fundraisers. Getting community together to relax and enjoy good food and conversation. Gathering over a meal makes people socialize and unite. It gives us a moment to enjoy life and the people around us. Organizations needing money benefit from these gatherings.

In the restaurant, it is coming together for a family meal. Keeping our team nourished and taking a moment to have a conversation with the staff helps with team building. It gives everyone a moment to relax before service time.

What’s your go-to place to eat when you’re in Toronto?

I liked what they were doing at Brothers when I left Toronto last year. The food, beverage, and service worked so well in that space. I am looking forward to visiting AloBar, I heard they have a Josper Grill just like we do at ONE65 in San Francisco.  Cooking in this charcoal grill gives food such an incredible flavour.

Can you give us a sneak peek at what you’ll be cooking up for the Enlightened Feast?

I was chosen to do a vegetarian dish of fire roasted beet gazpacho with burrata and gooseberries. I am also working on an appetizer with Liberty Rivers using beef tongue and bannock. She says she has a great recipe that she’s learned over the years.

Co-presented by The Food Dudes & C.L.A.M., The Enlightened Feast takes place at the Gardiner Museum on October 18. Click here to purchase tickets.

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