Meet some of Winnipeg’s best female chefs
By Andrea Ratuski
It’s true, the Winnipeg restaurant scene is dominated by male chefs, all doing amazing work. But the landscape is changing; more and more restaurant kitchens are helmed by women. Here are five female chefs making an impact on the culinary scene in our city.
Kelly Cattani, chef de cuisine of Buffalo Stone Café at Fort Whyte Alive, 1961 McCreary Rd.
There’s a fearless quality about Chef Kelly Cattani, whether she’s presenting elk tataki at a national competition or cooking up a storm on the frozen ice at the RAW:almond river pop-up. This young chef has already had many career highlights.
She showcased Manitoba at the prestigious Gold Medal Plates Canadian Culinary Championship in Kelowna, B.C. in 2014.
“I think that is probably a highlight for me personally,” she said. “It was very stressful and it was a growing experience.”
Being a part of the Diversity Food Services team with Chefs Ben Kramer and Aron Epp has afforded her the opportunity to be a key player in many culinary adventures. From the massive Table for 1,200 on Esplanade Riel, where all the food came from her kitchen at the U of W, to the Winnipeg Folk Festival backstage, where the Diversity-led crew fed 5,000 people three meals a day.
“It was insane, I was over-the-top excited. I still look back on that and shake my head and just can’t believe that we pulled that off,” she said.
And she seems to thrive on that kind of pressure. “For better or worse, I think I’m good at it. I like feeding people.”
The lovely natural environment at Fort Whyte definitely inspires her hearty and fresh menu at Buffalo Stone Café, now run by the Diversity team.
“We have a unique opportunity here because there’s a fully functioning farm on site,” she said. In addition to fresh produce, chickens, pigs and rabbits are raised on the farm.
“I like food,” she said. “I like food even more when it is fresh, simple, prepared creatively and the ingredients are allowed to shine.”
Talia Syrie, chef and owner of The Tallest Poppy, 103 Sherbrook St.
Chef Talia Syrie is now blossoming in her new digs on Sherbrook Street, where fans clamour to find a seat.
“I really have always been interested in people sitting around and eating together. Family dinner was always really important in our household, and not negotiable,” she said, reclining in her wackily-decorated surroundings.
Chef Talia serves up comfort food, a happy blend of dishes she learned from her Jewish grandmother and mother, like brisket, blintzes and matzo ball soup, along with influences from the deep south brought by her partner, Steve Ackerman, like fried chicken and lots of pork.
“This is where the worlds collide,” she said.
“When it came right down to it, they were both peasant foods. They used a lot of the same techniques – but they called them different things – to make something of nothing. It’s not precious, that’s for sure.”
But it’s food that has pleased the palates of everyone from Michaëlle Jean to The Pixies, her favourite band.
She calls the environment in the restaurant a little frenetic, a little chaotic, but always comfortable.
“It’s just actually about caring. In my family, the only way you can ever really let someone know that you care about them is to feed them.”
Lorna Murdoch, chef at Fusion Grill, 550 Academy Rd.
Fusion Grill was a pioneer at the time it opened its doors in 1996, the first to go hyper-local in sourcing ingredients and supporting local producers.
Lorna Murdoch was part of the original culinary team at this upscale casual eatery. After she left for stints around the country, she was invited back in 2003 by owner Scot McTaggart to head up the kitchen. Her menu remains one of the most inventive in the city.
“The creativity is exciting,” she said. “It’s fun to do something new every day. We get to change the menu all the time.”
She also loves meeting winemakers from around the country, Fusion’s other innovation being its all-Canadian wine list.
Chef Lorna is modest about the raves she receives for her pickerel cheeks, bison and perogies. She recalls that when it was suggested to her to put the humble perogy on the menu, she scoffed that she would only do it if she could fill it with foie gras and drizzle it with truffle oil. Which is what she did. All these years later she laughs that her unique take on perogies remains one of her signature dishes.
“That’s where it came from.”
Karen Peters, chef, blogger
Chef Karen Peters was studying philosophy in Heidelberg, Germany, when she took on a job in a kitchen at a Bavarian restaurant to help make ends meet.
“I’m a vegetarian and I’d never seen so much pork in my life!” she quipped.
Nevertheless, she was smitten.
She spent two life-changing years cooking on a boat in the Aegean Sea, where she honed her skills and learned all about Turkish cuisine, which remains her passion and hallmark as a chef.
“There are over 1,000 recipes for eggplant alone,” she explained.
Her favourite remains the simplest: grilled eggplant with a yogurt garlic sauce or patliçan yogürtlü.
Chef Karen remembers a transformative moment early in her career where she was served a soup at Mirlycourtois, the famed Winnipeg French restaurant of yore.
“It was so amazing, I nearly cried,” she said. “It made me realize that you should expect a universe of flavour in that little bowl of soup.”
Inspired, Chef Karen continues to work with local, natural, organic and sustainable products.
These days, this former chef and co-owner of Arkadash Bistro and Lounge is a busy caterer, personal chef for those with special health needs, food blogger (karenfood.blogspot.ca) and regular guest on CBC’s Weekend Morning Show.
Look out for Chef Karen this summer at the Downtown Farmers’ Market at Manitoba Hydro Place plying her exotic spice blends, delicious focaccia and chutneys.
Rachel Isaak, chef and café manager of Sam’s Place, 159 Henderson Hwy.
When you walk into Sam’s Place, you’re first bowled over by the rows and rows of used books for sale. Evenings, there’s live music; on the walls, there’s art for sale. But it’s the food that consistently draws the oohs and aahs from customers.
Chef Rachel is perfect for this cozy corner in Elmwood. As its sole trained chef, she does it all, creating exciting yet familiar classics with a twist: apple pie grilled cheese, anyone? That, along with her pulled pork with rhubarb barbecue sauce and roasted peaches, is a favourite, as well as her comforting soups. She was also a pastry chef for eight years, so her sweets are delicious.
And she makes all of this food from scratch from local produce, in the tiniest kitchen imaginable.
Chef Rachel was born to be a chef. “It’s always been something I’ve enjoyed, something I excelled at, so when it came to figuring out what to do with my life it was a natural fit.”
Sam’s Place is a non-profit organization run by the Mennonite Central Committee, devoted to making an impact in the community. Chef Rachel, soft-spoken yet deeply committed, provides young people with kitchen and food-service training.
“The thing I find most rewarding is when I give people the skill sets that they need to get that first job and succeed in life.”
That, and creating amazing, healthy food out of the simplest ingredients – some grown in the restaurant’s boulevard garden – and seeing the satisfaction on customers’ faces.