Biography

THE WHOLE STORY, IF YOU CARE TO READ IT!!

My career as a cook started in my family home. My parents encouraged to create food at a very early age. Early tasks revolved around vinaigrettes and salads... Some interesting experiments ensued, but the idea that I was trusted to come up daily with these impromptu concoctions, coupled with the fact that food was fun, as well as a matter to be taken seriously, spurred a passion for food that was to last a lifetime.

After highschool, I studied Sciences at CEGEP in Québec, then moved on to a very short-lived interest in Civil Law (one year at faculty of Law convinced me that my true path did not lie in law courts or offices... I spent most of my days in the Market, shopping for the ingredients that were to be included in our evening meals, while my fellow students parked their business-suit-clad bottoms on the school benches).

Followed an Undergraduate degree in Forest ressources Management at the University of British Columbia. Forestry may not have been an all-consuming passion, although I am quite a nature enthusiast, but the move to B.C. proved to be a good one. In fact, if it had not been for the Forest Renewal B.C. Program that enabled me to go back to school and study cooking more seriously, I may never have become a professional chef...

Vancouver Community College... for the first time in my life, I had found a school that challenged me to become the best that I could be. There were many factors that led me to feel that way, among them the fact that the old guard at the College was slowly being replaced by a brigade of new and upcoming chefs, most of which were involved in high-level culinary competitions and owners of their own food-related businesses.

I started volunteering for the competitions held at the College, and as soon as I was able to, entered one of my own... I was in the fourth month of my culinary training and in sore need of coaching... I will eternally be grateful to Mr. Feist who took it upon himself to guide me through this first trial by fire. His patience and encouragement were the main things that sustained me (students who were below their 7th or 8th month of training did not generally enter these competitions...)and eventually continue on the path I had chosen.

This first competition taught me the importance of precision, timing, cleanliness, composition, flavours, inventiveness, flair and attitude in the kitchen. I believe to this day that competing is the best, fastest and most challenging way for a beginner cook to hone his/her skills and remain on the cutting edge of what is happening in the field. I was awarded the B.C. Chef's Association Annual Scholarship, as well as the Fred Naso Memorial Award for outstanding academic achievement, received a Bronze Medal at my first competition and went on to a four-year Culinary Apprenticeship at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver under Chef Daryl Rio Nagata.

In the meantime, I was working part-time at the Pear Tree Restaurant under chef Scott Jaeger (one of Canada's representatives at the Bocuse d'Or), as well as doing caterings for John Carlo Felicella, one of my instructors (Culinary Team Canada), who owned La Toque Blanche Restaurant in West Vancouver at the time. J.C. was the first major influence in my career as a cook. He embodied the professionalism, joie de vivre, ability to generate loyalty in his peers, co-workers and employees, as well as sheer virtuosity without ego that I aspired to. He always knew just how much he could challenge us and I felt that he trusted me in spite of my lack of experience and confidence because he knew that I care so much about the end product. From J.C., I learned how to present food, care about every minute detail, how to never cut corners, how to arrange a sumptuous buffet table with limited means, how to use my imagination and creativity in the kitchen, how to be quick on my feet and fix mistakes without sacrificing quality, how to have fun even in times of intense stress. Thank you, J.C.!

During those years, I also started working at the Irish Heather Pub in Gastown. Sean, the owner, was doing something new at the time: a pub that served high-end food at affordable prices, and his executive chef, Greg Argent, was a dynamic, driven, fun, quirky, extremely capable chef who also happened to be completely overworked and shared the same food philosophy as me, so it was a meeting of the minds when I introduced myself to him... I felt like the Hotel was slowly sucking my soul through sheer repetition, even though it was a most effective training ground for me, so I aslo worked there part-time, even though a had full-time status at the Hotel. Somehow, though, working at the Heather fed my soul in a very significant way, to the point that it did not even feel like work to me. I had fun and freedom to create the soups and vegetarian dishes, I plated and cooked everything on the menu, discovered some amazing ska bands and made some great friends there.

I continued entering competitions throughout my apprenticeship, for which I seemed doomed to always be granted Bronze Medals... The last one, however, was hosted by the Waterfront Hotel, my Alma Mater, in a way. Chef Daryl came to me one day and asked me to represent the Hotel. I was to be the only woman, but most importantly, the only apprentice to enter this competition that was meant as a way for Fetzer Vineyards to promote one of their featured wines at a Convention hosting 500 guests involved in the British Columbia Food Scene. I was very nervous at first to be set against some high-level chefs, all of whom had substantially more cooking experience than I.

I worked like mad, preparing for the big day, conferring with our house sommelier about the attributes of the wine we had been assigned in order to come up with the best possible food pairing, practicing and tweaking my dish over and over, staying late after work with some of the sous-chefs, discussing the best way of presenting this brainchild of mine. In the end, I figured that since I did not stand a chance of winning, I would play the gracious host, introduce myself to everyone, wish them luck and so on. Quite relaxed, I approached my station and went on to produce my three dishes to the best of my ability, which were to be judged blindly (the judges did not find out who had prepared the various dishes until after their final verdict had been given). After the first part of the competition, ten finalists were nominated (the winner had been selected already, but was not to be divulged until the night of the Convention, when all ten finalists were to produce appetizer-sized bouchées of their dishes for the 500 guests, and the final winner was to be announced, along with the launch of a mini-cookbook including all the recipes submitted by the finalists)...

I was ecstatic that I had been named one of the ten finalists, then quite incredulous when I was told that I had won the event ''hands down'' by the head judge. The resentment was plain to see on the face of some of the other competitors who all seemed to know each other quite well, having been involved in the Vancouver Food Biz for so long, but who had clearly never heard of me at all... So after I collected my prize (an all-expenses paid trip for two to the Napa Valley, visits to various vineyards and a cooperage, a luxurious appartment in their exclusive Guest House which featured the largest en-suite Jaccuzzi tub I had ever seen, fabulous food and wine, the works!) and came back to Vancouver, I felt like I was on top of the world.

I proceeded to transfer my apprenticeship to the West Coast Fishing Club on Langara Island, in the Queen Charlotte Islands of B.C.. My Chef was John Clark, former sous-chef of Diva Restaurant at the Metropolitan Hotel in Vancouver. John was about my age, but had worked in kitchens from the age of 15, and was extremely competent. He also happened to be passionate about pastry and baking, a trait that is rather rare among the chefs that I associated with at the time. My first year at the WCFC was spent in the staff kitchen, 6 days a week, 12 hours a day, cooking three meals a day for a staff of fifty. I played as hard as I worked in those days, which is kind of a way of life for most folks involved in the food business, so by the end of the contract, I was quite ready for a very long break... The following summer, I applied for the position of Pastry Chef at WCFC, and this is where I learned most of what I know about baking. John had been trained by one of the top pastry chefs in the province and really believed in training apprentices thoroughly. I learned many nifty kitchen tricks from John, but mostly, what I admired most about him was his professionalism, his approachability, his humility and the respect he showed to all the employees who worked with him, for he truly understood that an organization is only as strong as its weakest member. These are lessons that have followed me to this day and that I srive to apply in my work environment.

After those two summers, I went back to VCC to take my exams for the Red Seal/Journeyman Certification and graduated at the top of my class, which meant being nominated for the Apprentice of the Year Competition to be held the following year... I ended up going to Japan that year and became pregnant with Lili, which meant that by the time the competition was held, I was 8.5 months pregnant and in no shape to participate. End of competing career... No regrets.

I moved back to Galiano Island to have my child, then embarked on a two-year stint as a night chef at the Market Café. I started my own catering company, a.k.a. Mezzaluna Catering back then, and became chef at the Golf Course on Galiano, but at that point in my life, my child and family life took precedence over my career, until the spring of 2007, when I took over the management and the operations of the Golf Course Restaurant and opened Lili's on the Greens, Bistro and Catering. The lunch menu featured fresh, light lunches, and in the evening, we disguised the dining room as a fine dining establishment with live jazz music on saturday nights. We even had one of the local food writers, Pam Freir, do a reading from her book, Laughing with my mouth full, on the closing night. All in all, a challenging undertaking for one person,but also a thoroughly worthwhile experience. I know a lot more about my own boundaries, my ability to handle stress, employee relations, payroll and accounting, as well as how to make the best of a glorified home kitchen and turn it into a kitchen capable of producing a five-course fine-dining extravaganza for up to forty-five people!!!. I was blessed to have Christian, my partner, who helped us in times of panic, setting out the signage every week, helping with business negociations and even occasionally doing the laundry for the bistro! I would not have survived the adventure without him!

Lili's is now closed. However, the catering business is doing well, from full-fledged 150-people weddings to small gatherings, including Raw Food Lifestyle retreats and taking the show 'on the road' (catering on neighboring islands using our sailboat for deliveries!!! quite an adventure!). I have also become part-owner of a small organic coffee-roasting business based on Galiano (the Galiano Coffee Roasting Company), which currently involves 5 local families and produces about 200 pounds of delicious, freshly-roasted, organic, fair-trade shade-grown coffee per week (it's a bit like the Remington ad: I loved the product so much, I bought the company!!!). Additionally, over the past four years, I have had the great pleasure of coordinating the Galiano Community Food Program with Janice Oakley, a fantastic human being that has greatly enriched my life (and also helps out on the wedding caterings-- she is the best server on Galiano, bar none!!). Local food production, food security, sustainability, slow food movement, cooperation, conscious living and self-sufficiency have become household words and principles that we strive to apply to our daily activities. The Galiano Community seems a closer-knit tapestry to me as a result of the program, and I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the process. It truly has transformed the way I see the world and live in it. Looking forward to all the new and exciting culinary adventures to come!!! Bon appétit, and thanks for reading this very long bio to the end!

Award Winning Food

1999 BC CHEF'S ASSOCIATION TOP CULINARY STUDENT AWARD

Career Highlights

NOV 2001-JULY 2002 IRISH HEATHER PUB, VANCOUVER, COOK