Montreal Women with Knives event cuts through sexism in professional kitchens

Montreal's Phi Centre agrees that a woman's place is in the kitchen — and its Women with Knives series spotlights the culinary artistry these chefs are performing there.

Series features top female chefs in 2 locations in Old Montreal until Feb. 8

Slovenian chef Ana Roš was voted the world's best female chef in 2017 and will be cooking and speaking at the event. (Suzan Gabrijan/Centre Phi)

Montreal's Phi Centre agrees that a woman's place is in the kitchen — and its Women with Knives series spotlights the culinary artistry these chefs are performing there.

The four-day series starts Monday and includes conversations and demonstrations at the multipurpose arts venue the Phi Centre as well as a gastronomic dinner at nearby Candide restaurant, both in Old Montreal.

Organizers at the multipurpose arts venue said the "timing was right" to showcase women who are leaders in the male-dominated field.

"We're doing this type of event because for us, culinary art is as much a form of art as music, as cinema, as an exhibition," said Phi Centre spokesperson Myriam Achard.

Quebec's Colombe Saint-Pierre, the owner of Chez Saint-Pierre in Rimouski, said that the province is unique when it comes to kitchen sexism.

"Quebec is not a place where you can say, 'I feel like a woman in the kitchen,'" she said.

She said that it wasn't always easy and there are "macho men" in some kitchens, but she didn't let it get to her.

"I could say, 'stop.'"

'You've worked like a man'

For 10 years Saint-Pierre travelled the world, cooking in restaurants from Australia to Peru.

In her globetrotting, she found that different countries are at different places when it comes how female chefs are treated.

Colombe Saint-Pierre owns Chez Saint-Pierre in Rimouski. (Submitted by Centre Phi)

She remembers an international cooking competition in Paris where she was the only woman competing out of about 20 chefs. 

At the end of the event one of the judges complimented her by saying, "You've worked like a man."

While she is at ease navigating the social dynamics in kitchens — the demands of being a chef and mother are harder to negotiate. 

Sixteen-hour days are not unusual in professional kitchens and standing most of those hours, doing physical labour under stress, proved especially hard when she was pregnant. 

Pressure cooker for mothers

Saint-Pierre said it took her eight years to have her three children because she suffered three miscarriages in that time.

"You just try to keep going and it's so hard. To keep working and thinking 'I don't know if my baby's going to be okay,'" she said.

Now that she's balancing caring for her young children and being a chef, she sometimes wishes she could spend more time with her daughters. 

During high season she finds herself working nonstop.

"The thing is, when you're a mother, you just feel always guilty about something," she said.

Her restaurant in Rimouski is closed until spring and Saint-Pierre is driving the 500 kilometres east to get to Montreal for Women with Knives.

Coming from much further afield is chef Ana Roš, co-owner of the restaurant Hiša Franko (Frank's House) in Kobarid, Slovenia.

Women with Knives features conversations and cooking demonstrations with top chefs. (Submitted by Centre Phi)

Roš is credited with putting Slovenia on the gastronomic map and was voted World's Best Female Chef 2017 in The World's 50 Best Restaurants awards.

Saint-Pierre and Roš are joining forces to cap off the event series Thursday with an eight course gourmet dinner at Candide restaurant.