Vancouver’s Yes Shef Event Celebrates Diverse Female Talent in the Hospitality Industry

Photo credit: Vision Event Photography

Vancouver has phenomenal female talent in the hospitality industry, as evidenced by veteran and up-and-coming chefs, bartenders, sommeliers, brewers, and winemakers.

However, many of their achievements go unrecognized by the media and public. In order to spotlight these amazing women, Yes Shef: Elevating Women in Food and Beverage returns November 6, 2023, to the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s Star Sapphire Ballroom. It’s a fundraising event that fêtes the amazing women who are powerhouses within British Columbia’s hospitality community while serving delicious food and beverages.

The event is presented by WORTH (Women of Recreation, Tourism, and Hospitality) Association, which was launched in 2018 when founder and CEO Joanna Jagger realized there was a need for an organization that championed women in these three intertwined industries. Jagger was doing a masters in leadership studies when she came across a troubling lack. “I was doing research on women in tourism, hospitality, and recreation, and I found very little data and research,” she says.

Photo: Vision Event Photography

She organized an event called Empower Her, bringing together female professionals in these industries, and was shocked to learn that it was the first of its kind. “It grew from there, seeing an opportunity to support women as they grow their career ambitions in the industry,” she says.

WORTH engages in a variety of work to empower women in these sectors, including mentorship, scholarships, research, advocacy, networking events, skills training, and leadership education. Meeru Dhalwala, co-owner and chef of Vij’s Restaurant, says, “WORTH instinctively feels and ushers in the fact that we women are different from men in how we work, run things at home, interact with peers and staff, prioritize, spend revenues, speak, laugh—and yet we celebrate and work towards inclusivity.”

Photo Credit: Vision Event Photography

Jagger, who started her career as a cook, had firsthand experience with the challenges that women continue to face in these industries: lower pay than male counterparts, grueling working conditions, and instances of sexual harassment. “A lot of the women connected to Yes Shef are sharing stories about the same things they’ve endured, and they don’t want that for the next generation of women. They want better work-life balance, better support, better treatment, and better pay equity,” says Jagger. And the fact that there are 43% fewer women working in BC restaurant kitchens since 2019 indicates that change and support are required.

Part of the change needed is sharing success stories of women in the industry. “It’s time to put the women in the spotlight, and that’s what I think Yes Shef aims to do: showcase their talent and stories, give light to the path they’ve carved for themselves, and inspire the next generation of women,” says Jagger.

The event on November 6 brings together both senior as well as rising talent within the hospitality industry, including chefs such as Marisa Gonzalez from Hawksworth and Ying Ying Gao from Riley’s Fish and Steak and beverage professionals such as Shiva Reddy from Burdock and Co and Melanie MacInnes from Locality Brewing. Jagger explains that WORTH very intentionally assembled a diverse group of female professionals that represent a range of cuisines as well as scales of establishments. “For us, it was important to recognize a lot of the chefs we may not always hear about every day,” she says.

Photo: Chef Marissa Gonzalez from Hawksworth

What makes the event particularly special is its emphasis on mentorship. “There are more women working in tourism, hospitality, and recreation than men but we don’t see those numbers reflected in leadership roles,” says Jagger. As a result, for Yes Shef, each of the chefs has been paired with a student apprentice from the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA) to collaborate on a dish, which they will serve to guests at the gala evening. The beverage professionals will serve wine, beer, and cocktails to pair with these dishes.

Photo Credit: Vision Event Photography

Past student participants rave about the experience. “The Yes Shef event provided me with an unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience. It was absolutely thrilling to meet leading female chefs that evening and work shoulder to shoulder with them,” says Joy Rudder, a Vancouver Community College (VCC) participant from last year, adding, “Each chef was so receptive to us apprentices, so down to earth and encouraging! I doubt if I may ever be in a place like this again with just such a combination of female talent, creativity, and support.” The hope is that the mentorship relationships will continue beyond Yes Shef.

In addition to the over 20 food and beverage stations to enjoy, the event will feature live music by female talent The Dimes and DJ Pri, a wine wall and silent auction, scholarship presentations, and an awards presentation. Three awards will be given out, the first a Women of Worth Empower Award to Meeru Dhalwala, an Elevate Award for Gender Equity to Flavours of Hope (an organization that empowers refugee women), and the Yes Shef Award, to the winning chef-and-apprentice team for culinary excellence. The latter award will be judged by Dhalwala, Andrea Carlson (chef and owner of Burdock and Co), Deseree (Dez) Lo (Top Chef Canada runner-up), and Inez Cook (chef and owner of Salmon n’ Bannock).

Photo Credit: Vision Event Photography

Jagger is incredibly excited about this year’s Yes Chef, which promises to be just as uplifting and community-building as previous evenings. “Guests get to know some faces on the culinary landscape that are trail blazing, innovative, and inspiring, and see what barriers they’ve faced in terms of getting to this step in their career, and guests also get the opportunity to meet that next up-and-coming generation of culinary talent,” says Jagger.

She emphasizes the inclusivity and welcoming nature of the event and of Vancouver’s female culinary community. Ultimately, Yes Chef is about lifting up the women in the industry—an initiative that everyone can support. “We want to see more women achieve Michelin status, we want to see more women in restaurant ownership and in executive positions—and we know that Vancouver is the city to make that happen,” Jagger says.

More information and tickets ($200 per ticket, Note: 19+ event) can be found here. Proceeds from ticket sales will fund all the important work that WORTH does, including their scholarships and resources for female hospitality professionals.

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