Chef Q&A: Chicha and The Union
Professional kitchens used to be almost exclusively the domain of men. These two chef/restaurateurs have witnessed -- and played a part in -- the retreat of that norm.
April 17, 2015
Q: Where did you get your start in the industry?
SHELOME BOUVETTE: I always wanted to be a chef, ever since I was a little kid. I’d watch The Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child, and so I was always in the kitchen with my grandma. We’d be making perogies and borscht. And then I went to cooking school and just started working from the bottom.
LISA HENDERSON: I was always moonlighting in the restaurant business, and I took off to Tofino for one summer and was offered up a restaurant, the Alley Way Café. I eventually went on to build my own restaurant, RainCoast Café in Tofino, for 16 years.
Q:What were your food experiences at home? Were your parents into food?
LH: My mom certainly tried, but it was a lot of Stove Top stuffing wrapped in hamburger roulade. But my aunt, whom I was very close to, had a cellar stuffed with preserves, she had a wood-burning stove, she cooked pies, she made tea the proper way. She was my inspiration, for sure.
SB: Both my parents cook. My whole family cooks. We didn’t have a lot of money, so you would go and get your carrots, celery, and onions, and you’d make chicken potpie or just basic things, and that’s how I taught myself. I just realized that I loved it. We didn’t buy a lot of packaged food.Q: Do you have a memory of the first thing you made as a little kid?
SB: My mom would come home — she worked full-time and she was a single mom — and I’d have things ready, and she’d be like, “Where did you learn that?” I felt like it was what I wanted to do. I just picked it up. I would read everything, and it was just something I was good at.
LH: I took cooking classes in school, and I’d go home and try them out on the family. One of my formative memories is picking wild asparagus in Kamloops.
Q: Do you see more young women applying for apprenticeships nowadays?
SB: My kitchen right now, there’s one man, but the rest of us are women. We’re different. We’re more sensitive. People always say women can multitask, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily true. Definitely more emotions, more drama, in the kitchen.
LH: I had a friend who said, “Male chefs cook for themselves. Female chefs cook for everyone else.” That’s always stuck with me.
SB: That’s why I do it. I love to cook because it makes people happy. I would never go home and cook for myself because there’s nobody there who’s gonna applaud you: “That was great!”
Q: Did you have female chefs who were mentors to you?
SB: Tina Fineza. She’s one of my favourite people. She’s done so well with her career — she decided not to be just stuck in one place. Her and Annette Rawlinson, they started this company, Service Excellence Hospitality Consultants, where they’ve gone in and they’ve just opened up all these restaurants, and they’re so successful. Then they can up and do something else rather than just stay and put everything into one place. I really respect that about her.
LH: The restaurant I took over in Tofino was run by a fiery Chilean woman. I learned about working hard from her, but it was her approach toward people and how she treated us that made me decide I was never going to run a kitchen like that. To be called “idiot” over and over — you just know that’s how you’re not gonna do things.
SB: It’s almost like being a parent: you don’t want to make your parents’ mistakes, so you try not to do that with your own staff. I’ve worked under a lot of people who would yell and scream and throw pans. I just choose not to treat my staff like that. You have to respect people. They’ll work hard for you if you respect them.
LH: Though I’ve had people that can’t hack that style. They have to be yelled at. You can’t just say, “Do the soup of the day. Off you go.” They freeze.
Shelome Bouvette worked in several restaurnt kitchens before becoming executive chef at Lolita’s South of the Border Cantina in 2005. She’s now an owner of Peruvian-themed Chicha. Following 16 at Tofino’s Raincoast Cafe, Lisa Hendersonco-opend Latitude, on Main Street, in 2009. She’s now executive chef at Chinatown’s The Union