In this week's edition of Canada's Tastemakers, FBC's Shareba Abdul chats with Canadian Culinary Championships contestant, Nova Scotia based Chef Renee Lavallée.
When Chef Renée Lavallé stepped away from her fine dining career three years ago, she had lost her love for cooking. Now, she’s a happy mother of two who runs a successful sandwich shop in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Although she's not making fancy gourmet dishes anymore, she certainly hasn’t lost her touch.
Renee recently won the Gold Medal Plates competition in Halifax, after competition against 8 other chefs. She wowed the judges with her Nova Scotia Picnic dish, which included a fresh lobster roll made with a combination of snow crab and lobster on a brioche bun (yum!).
Not only did she take home the top honours that night, but she also earned a spot at the prestigious Canadian Culinary Championships, which will be held in Kelowna, B.C. on February 6th and 7th.
We had FBC's Shareba Abdul speak to Renée about how she’s preparing for the upcoming competition, and how she feels about being the only female competitor.
FBC: Congratulations on winning your Gold Medal Plates competition in Halifax! Your Nova Scotia Picnic dish looked delicious. What was your thought process when you came up with that dish?
Renée Lavallée: We wanted to keep the dish simple and have it reflect what we do on a daily basis, which is sandwiches. We wanted a Maritime feel with a little bit of nostalgia. There were elements of my childhood thrown in there too.
FBC: Do you have a game plan for the Canadian Culinary Championships? Are you doing anything in particular to prepare for that competition?
Renée Lavallée: We are just getting rested up and excited! We want to arrive with clear minds and energy. Other than throwing a few ideas around, we are being pretty relaxed about the whole thing.
FBC: There are 11 chefs competition this year, and you are the only woman. Are you happy to be singled out as the only female competitor in the Canadian Culinary Championships, or would you rather be seen as just another talented chef?
Renée Lavallée: Honestly, I know there will be talk about me being the only female, and you know what? Let them talk. Is it a bad thing to be singled out? I certainly don't think so.
Yes, I am a woman, but at the end of the day, that should not make any difference. We all cook and will work our hardest regardless of our gender.
There were a lot of amazing females chefs that competed in the other cities and it’s too bad that there weren't more that made it out to Kelowna. I feel privileged and proud to be the only woman, and only female team (I am bringing 2 of my staff with me who are also girls).
FBC: What would winning this competition mean to you?
Renée Lavallée: It would prove that I truly did deserve it. It would prove that I am just as talented as the boys, and hopefully that would translate into a little more respect from some of my fellow peers.
FBC: At the 2014 Terroir Symposium, Chef Amanda Cohen gave a speech about sexism in the food industry. She pointed out that female chefs don’t get nominated for as many awards as male chefs, and subsequently they get less recognition. Have you found this to be the case?
Renée Lavallée: Yes, I was there for that, as was my sous-chef/work wife, Jessica Best. We were quite taken with what she had to say.
I will admit that some days I feel that way, while other days I don't. I guess in the end, we probably don't get the recognition because there aren't that many female executive chefs out there. There are tons of girls, working & cooking in kitchens, but the percentage of females in executive positions is pretty low.
FBC: Do you have any advice for females who are pursuing a culinary career?
Renée Lavallée: Do it! Go for it! Give it your all and never let anyone tell you otherwise.
I have had many chefs along my 20 plus career that have been my biggest fans; my biggest cheerleaders and it is because of them that I never, ever gave up and pursued what I was passionate about.
It is because of chefs like Anthony Walsh, Gord Mackie & Charles Part that I am what I am today and I hope that, somewhere down the road, I am that for the women who have worked with and for me.
Chef Renée Lavallée is a Red Seal Certified Chef who lives in Nova Scotia. She owns, and cooks at, a popular sandwich shop in Downtown Dartmouth called The Canteen. You can read about her culinary journey on her food blog: Feisty Chef.