Women may make up the majority of home cooks, but they run only a small percentage of the world’s top restaurants. One of the goals of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR) is to help change that. Eight female chefs and culinary pioneers created the organization in 1993 to address the challenges facing females in the culinary industry. Among its strategies, according to the WCR website, is to leverage the voices of talented women while building connections between industry peers.
That was on display Sept. 16, as hundreds of female chefs, restaurateurs, and others in the food industry gathered in Calgary from around the world for the WCR Education Conference. The one-day event, “People. Purpose. Passion. The Pathway to Success,” was held at WinSport, a sporting and event venue, and offered educational workshops, discussion panels, and opportunities to network with the women who are leading the way in the culinary industry.
[pullquote class=“left”]Calgary is a culinary hotspot … and WCR relied on top local talent to educate conference attendees.[/pullquote]
WCR not only “allows women to share their common struggles but their strategies for success,” said Liana Robberecht, WinSport’s executive chef and WCR board member. The conference goal is “to provide career advice, work-life balance strategies, and networking opportunities for women across all areas of the industry.” Attendees had opportunities, she added, “to build collaborations by sharing their own expertise in areas such as life coaching, finance, front and back of the house [operations], along with organizational strategies for career success.”
‘A Culinary Hotspot Filled with Leaders’
WCR also relied on top local talent to educate conference attendees, Robberecht said.. “Calgary is a city that is a culinary hotspot full of leaders in all areas. We have Nicole Gomes, winner of Top Chef Canada; Cheri Andrews, owner and operator of Chinook Honey and international award-winning Mead and Honey; Nicole Fewell, owner and creator of Porter’s Tonic; and Peggy Garritty, chief reputation and brand officer at ATB Financial.”
One session this year was titled “How to Reinvent Yourself: Finding Your Place After Disruption,” and featured leaders in the industry, including celebrity chef Elizabeth Falkner. “This panel shared stories about where they found purpose after a change in their employment,” Robberecht said. “Often, we become where we work, so a change can be difficult. This is a topic that isn’t talked about. We’re all ‘great’ and ‘fine’ when really this isn’t the truth.”
As a longtime WCR member, Robberecht has seen the real-world impact these events have had on the industry at large. “With Canadian membership growing, I see doors opening [for women in the culinary world] not only in Alberta but across Canada,” she said. “This association is impactful as it is non-ego driven. The opportunities for mentorship, collaboration, and education are amazing.”
In addition to the talent Calgary has to offer, the city provides a stunning backdrop for an event like this. “It’s an amazing opportunity to showcase Calgary for its beauty,” Robberecht said. “I feel honored to be a part of this experience.”