A quick Q & A with some of PEI’s best talents

In September our Island abounds with phenomenal food events as the PEI Fall Flavours Festival kicks into high gear. Island chefs pair with other chefs from across Canada during this month, but we caught up with some women who are killing it in the kitchen, not just in September, but year-round.

Answering Salty’s questions were: Chef Sarah Bennetto O’Brien (SBO), The Handpie Company; Chef Lucy Morrow (LM), Terre Rouge; Aurora MacLean (AM), Stir It Up!; Chef Megan Beairsto (MB) Open Eats; Chef Jane Crawford (JC), HopYard/Sugar Skull Cantina; and Chef Sarah Forrester Wendt (SFW), My Plum, My Duck. We also invited renowned Chef Lynn Crawford (LC) to give us her insight, as she returns to PEI to host a few Fall Flavours Festival events like Feast and Frolic and Surf and Turf.

What motivated you to become a chef?

SBO: Ok, so I was inspired to become a chef when I was working as a dishwasher/kitchen assistant and really loved the sense of family that a professional kitchen provided. Working as a high-intensity team to fuel customers in the best way spoke to me and continues to be my driving force.

Chef Lucy Morrow Photo credit: Kate Lister

LM: Growing up on a farm in rural Nova Scotia, I got a lot of firsthand exposure to where food comes from, how it got on my plate, and what it took to get there. I believe this is where my affinity for food began, particularly for locally cultivated meat and produce, and minimal waste.

When I was ten, I got paid for cooking for the first time. Our family friends were looking for someone to prepare Weight Watcher friendly meals for them, to have ready to heat up when they got home after work. My mom would print out the recipes, walk me through the process, and let me have at it. That opportunity gave me stepping stones to independently cooking.

The final piece of the puzzle that pulled cooking for a living together for me, was when I was in my last rotation of culinary school, and it clicked that being in the kitchen was just like being on a soccer team. The connection of my coworkers being like teammates, working together to achieve the same goal, inspired me to push myself as hard as I pushed myself athletically, with the same fulfilling enjoyment.

SFW: Food brings people together. I like to see people enjoying food and saying how good they feel after eating a nice meal.

Aurora MacLean Photo credit: Evan Ceretti

AM: I’ve always felt most creative and comfortable in the kitchen. I’m motivated by seeing people enjoy the food I prepare. It makes me happy knowing I’m serving people plant-based food that will not only satisfy their tastebuds, but also be rich in nutrients and prepared with the same love that I would use to create meals for my loved ones at home. It’s also extremely motivating knowing that every meal I serve from my cafe is one less meat-based meal consumed by that person. It’s a win for everyone.

LC: I have always loved being in the kitchen. Growing up with my family at home, dinner was all about enjoying delicious comfort food with all of us around the dinner table sharing our daily stories. My parents were really great cooks who loved to prepare lavish dinner parties for their friends. When they did, I made sure that I was there helping them both prepare…..Poached Lobster Salad with Lemon Aoili, Beef Wellington Duxelle with Red Wine sauce, Dover Sole Meuniere….my father made amazing sauces…..Baked Alaska for dessert, chocolate truffles. It didn’t matter who came for dinner…everyone enjoyed every course, every flavour, every last bite. I knew then that I wanted to cook and become a Chef.

JC: I was inspired to become a chef from a very young age. I was very fortunate to travel a lot with my family and I was always intrigued by food—flavours and experience.

MB: Self loathing? Just kidding (mostly). I was never especially “motivated” to become a chef. I chickened out of going to university after high school and ended up cooking at a diner for a year and realized I was good at the motions of it. The next step, going to culinary school, seemed obvious at that point.

Chef Jane Crawford Photo credit: Evan Ceretti

As a chef, what challenge are you most proud of overcoming?

MB: I’ve been consciously trying to work on my communication skills. As a woman in a professional setting, I tended to use phrases like “I feel like…” and “Does that make sense?” and “You know?” I’ve grown tired of preparing to explain myself further just to be taken seriously. I’ve grown tired of seeking reassurance for my opinions, professionally and otherwise.

SBO: I’m most proud of overcoming the societal pressure to have a work/life balance. This whole 9-5 with weekends off environment that many people live by just isn’t a reality for the vast majority of hospitality workers, so learning early on how to make the most of limited off hours is essential to longevity in the industry.

JC: I’m most proud of having three restaurants that are creative, fun, and hosts an environment for our culinary team to experiment, be adventurous, and laugh every day in. It’s challenging to work in kitchens that have a completely upbeat vibe so when we decided to start the first HopYard I knew it was of utmost importance to have that.

Chef Sarah Bennetto O’Brien Photo credit: Minotaur Creative

SFW: I keep learning everyday. There are always new techniques and flavors to try. Having my own restaurant is my biggest accomplishment.

LC: Leaving my comfort zone and branching out. Fear of change and the unknown is always our biggest stumbling blocks but as a Chef, passion and inspiration is everything. I am glad I realized early on to not fear change to embrace it and continue to learn.

AM: The biggest obstacle for me has been learning the business side of things. I have no background in business management. I’m just flying by the seat of my pants. I’m extremely proud to say that I’ve had to rely on good friends (all women) for advice on how to succeed. I deal with taxes, payroll, HST, scheduling, product pricing, workers compensation, bills, etc. on a daily basis, and that is all a behind-the-scenes struggle. But it’s been fun learning. And I feel like a stronger and more independent woman for now having that skill set.

LM: The biggest struggle I am in the process of overcoming is a better work/life balance. It is so hard to pull myself out of the kitchen, particularly mentally, but I am working with a team to help ease off, and work smarter.

What’s your hope for the future for female chefs?

JC:I feel that the future is always going to be amazing for female chefs. There are so many talented and successful women in the industry of all ages that are great role models for females to learn and grow from.

Chef Lynn Crawford submitted photo

SFW: That there will be more!

AM: It would be awesome to see more female plant-based chefs out there exploring alternatives to traditional meat meals. A compassionate, animal activist, female voice would be so empowering and really inspiring for young females to follow their heart.

SBO: My hope for female chefs? Well, I don’t have specific hopes for just those of us who identify as female… but my hope for all folks in the culinary industry is that we all stay grounded and strongly connected to those who farm/raise/catch/forage our ingredients. I spent two years working on organic farms and this has given me deep respect for the people and for the products that we use every day. Authentic connections within the whole food industry benefit us all!

LM: One of my hopes for female chefs is that we are no longer referred to as female chefs! I was never a female soccer player, a female runner, a female cook; but a soccer player, a runner, a cook.

MB: I hope that we keep calling out our male counterparts on toxic behavior. I hope that young women see the shift in our industry as an opportunity for them to enter, flourish, and create a comradery the same way that our male counterparts have since the beginning of the industry. I hope that as women chefs, we stop being a novelty; an element of surprise to diners.

Sarah Forrester Wendt Photo credit: Evan Ceretti

LC: That there isn’t “female” chefs or “male” chefs …just chefs who love their craft, are appreciated based on their talent and their understanding how important food sustainability is.

Name one local ingredient that’s a must in your kitchen.

LM: It is so hard to choose just one product, we get so many incredible, unique products delivered through our back door. It is so exciting. I’m excited thinking about it right now. If I had to choose, I would choose all the adorable baby vegetables that Trevor from Three Tree Farms harvests for us, because he knows I like the little veg.

SFW: Fresh Herbs!! Parsley for sure.

Chef Megan Beairsto Photo credit: Alex Clark

SBO: One ingredient that’s a complete must around here is butter. We use about 150 lbs a week right now!

MB: Oishi sauce from Cardigan!

JC: Favorite ingredients are eggs and porkbelly and my signature dish is crispy porkbelly fried rice with kimchi and eggs.

AM: This is going to sound funny, but it’s cherry tomatoes from Atlantic Grown Organics. I’ve had an addiction to tomatoes my whole life and I’d be lost without them. I’m so lucky this Island can produce delicious tomatoes year-round.

LC: It goes without saying… PEI’s fresh, local and delicious lobster….. oysters, mussels, potatoes, beef, cheese, chocolates, jams, chutneys, wines…..did you ask for just one?!

Since September is an incredible month for food, you should make a point of checking out and supporting all the women chefs across PEI who are participating in the PEI Fall Flavours Festival. We’re excited to see two of our interviewees, Jane Crawford, and Lucy Morrow on the local chefs list along with many other women from across the Island. Find the full list on the Fall Flavours website, or in their printed guide.

About Salty Staff

A diverse group of people, the Salty team works hard each month to bring you great stories about PEI's food and farming community.

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