Since the early 1900s, brave women have been standing up for the rights of future female generations. And as we continue working towards greater gender equality, there’s no better time to demonstrate this than on International Women’s Day. On March 8, we celebrate women’s economic, political, social, and cultural achievements globally — and Canada is no exception. In honour of International Women’s Day, we’re recognizing ten trailblazing women who work in food and beverage — which tends to be perceived as a male-dominated industry — who work tirelessly behind the scenes to create some of the best dining and cocktail offerings our fine country has to offer. While these women should not just be celebrated today, but, every day, here are 10 notable Canadian chefs, bartenders, and restauranteurs who inspire us.
Born in Toronto, restaurateur Janet Zuccarini is CEO and owner of Gusto 54 Restaurant Group and stands out as a woman and powerhouse entrepreneur in the restaurant industry. Zuccarini entered the food scene in 1996 when she first opened Trattoria Nervosa in Toronto’s Yorkville before later expanding to Gusto 101 in 2012, Gusto 501 in 2013, PAI Northern Thai Kitchen in 2014. In 2015, Gusto 54 Catering & Commissary was added to her growing roster. Then in 2017, Zuccarini opened Kiin, Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen, and Los Angeles-based restaurant Felix.
Restaurateur and bestselling author, Jen Agg is the woman behind the popular Toronto institutions Le Swan, Grey Gardens, Rhum Corner, Bar Vendetta, and Cocktail Bar in Toronto and Agrikol in Montreal. Agg has also entered the literary world with her debut novel, I Hear She’s a Real Bitch, which tackles misogyny and sexism in the restaurant world.
Suzanne Barr is one of Canada’s most respected chefs and has a signature flair for fresh comfort food and a passion for the local community, food security, and advocacy for people of colour and LGBTQ communities. Not only was she the owner of the Saturday Dinette, but she was also the inaugural chef-in-residence at the Gladstone Hotel, held a residency at Sand and Pearl Oyster Bar in Prince Edward County, and was head chef and owner at True True Diner in Toronto. More recently she served as one of the esteemed judges on Food Network Canada’s series, Wall of Chefs, and she is now in the works of making her own cookbook.
Chances are if you live in Toronto and love Thai food, you’ve most likely dined at one of Chef Nuit Regular’s many well-loved restaurants, which include Sukhothai, PAI, Sabai Sabai, or Kiin. In 2020, the self-taught chef released her first cookbook, Kiin: Recipes and Stories from Northern Thailand, in which, Regular shares the unique flavours of northern Thai food in a stunning collection of authentic recipes, essays, and location photography.
Celebrated Canadian chef, cookbook author, host, and TV personality, Chef Lynn Crawford is a house-hold name and has over 25 years of culinary experience, including many years as executive chef for the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto and New York. More recently, Crawford has starred on Food Network’s primetime cooking competition series Wall of Chefs, she can also be seen as an Iron Chef on Iron Chef Canada, Iron Chef America, Top Chef Masters (Season Five), Top Chef Canada, Chopped Canada, The Great Canadian Cookbook, and Restaurant Makeover.
As the executive chef behind the popular Drake Devonshire Inn in Prince Edward County, Alexandra has won rave reviews for her diverse menus that highlight the rich culinary bounty of the area. With a unique perspective and cooking style, she creates distinctive dishes that are inspired by nature and showcase the abundance of local ingredients that the region has to offer.
Meeru Dhalwala is an author, chef and co-owner of the well-loved Indian restaurants Vij’s and Rangoli in Vancouver. Born in India and raised in the US and later in England, Meeru began managing Vij’s kitchen when it first opened in 1994. Today, Meeru is a powerful force that runs two all-female kitchen staffs, that experiment with new cooking techniques and spice combinations.
Mixologist, sommelier, and the co-founder of Bittered Sling Bitters, Lauren Mote continues to be a leader in her industry that’s often male-dominated. Not only was she awarded Bartender of the Year in 2015 by Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards, but she was also the first woman to win the Diageo World Class Canada competition.
Known for her butchery skills and simple approach to food, Connie DeSousa is one of Canada’s most celebrated female chefs. The Calgary native is now the co-owner and co-executive chef of the award-winner CHARCUT Roast House, which focuses on roasted meats, charcuterie, and hearty dishes. DeSousa is also the force behind Calgary’s Charbar, Chix Eggshop, the Rooftop Bar at Simmons, and Connie & John’s pizza shop.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Chef Christa Bruneau-Guenther is French Métis and a proud member of Peguis First Nation. She is the owner of Feast Café Bistro in Winnipeg’s West End, which highlights modern dishes inspired by her Indigenous heritage. When she’s not working in the restaurant, you can also find Christa sharing her wealth of expertise on Wall of Chefs.
Feature Image: Instagram/VitamixCA