Dinner Party Talk w/ Jennifer Dewasha

Posted by Ivy Knight, September 27, 2017

Photo by Steven Lee from Chase Hospitality Group

The Dinner Party pays homage to Judy Chicago's groundbreaking art installation of the same name which is currently in the permanent collection at Brooklyn Art Museum. I spoke to participating chefs about what it means to take part in a tribute to such a powerful work of art. Here is Jennifer Dewasha, Executive Chef at Colette. She spent the majority of her career with two enormously skilled and lauded chefs; Daniel Boulud and Joel Robuchon, and as such is one of the most talented chefs in Canada right now.

This is a dinner party that pays homage to some serious vagina – in a world filled with phallic symbols, how do you feel participating in something so yonic?
I am excited to share my appreciation to the women and chefs who have helped pave the way for my career. I have worked in kitchens that have been helmed by supportive male chefs. I carefully chose environments where the men I worked with had great respect for all women in the industry. To me, it’s about equality and having a great team. It comes naturally to women to nurture cooks in the kitchen and become strong leaders in hospitality.

The Dinner Party is a celebration of art and food. For me, artistic inspiration is an important part of developing recipes. The dishes need not only to have great ingredient and taste profiles, but they also need to showcase your artistic abilities as a chef. More recently I have started to approach menu development with a more feminine touch. I try to use bright, vibrant colors, delicate combinations of ingredients and garnish that have as much thought as the feature of the dish. Food naturally is quite yonic. Take the shapes of some ingredients like artichokes in bloom, pears shaped in the female form, fennel bulbs, kabocha squash, onion petals and grapefruit vesicles. Femininity can also carry into foods like the vibrant pink flesh of salmon, the delicate and robust flavours of caviar, oysters, sea urchin and the pastel colors of hen’s eggs.

Colette 2

Photo by Steven Lee from Chase Hospitality Group

Where do you start from when conceptualizing the actual food when you’re presented such a large and famous work of art? So famous in fact that it was recently featured in season 2 of Master of None.
I had to watch the episode of Master of None before I answered this question. Judy Chicago’s exhibit in Brooklyn looks beautiful. Think of all the women in history that have helped to change our lives. I look towards women in kitchens for influences for recipes or dishes they helped to create and evolve. Back in the seventies, women like Virgina Woolfe and Georgia O’Keefe were changing the landscape of feminism and women’s rights. As a Mohawk woman it reminds me that First Nations women in Canada weren’t granted the right to vote in federal elections until the 1960s, 40 years after all other women in Ontario.

The group of women who are working together for this Dinner Party event on October 29 have just started brainstorming and talking through ideas. We are creating a menu with various cooking styles and backgrounds. We all have different ideas and influences accumulated along our careers. Ultimately it’s about showcasing how we can support each other and recognize the history of not only women in kitchens but also women who have made a difference in society. Eugenie Brazier was a female chef from Lyon who trained Paul Bocuse in her kitchen and was the first six star Michelin chef! Alice Waters set fresh, seasonal and local ingredients as the center of all her menus at Chez Panisse. She is one of the many women in kitchens that opened opportunities to women throughout history.

What has the response been from the male chefs who have been asked to serve at the dinner?
I asked the male chefs I work with at Chase Hospitality Group. I know chefs Tyler Shedden and Luke Kennedy from when we worked together at Café Boulud. They are strong supporters of women in kitchen. They give opportunities to staff that work hard and that want more responsibility and growth in the kitchen. Chefs Tyler and Luke don’t discriminate against gender and they believe in the same ideals that the Dinner Party represents.

As a woman in kitchens do you think that the endemic sexism of culinary culture is a thing perpetuated by the men you work with on the ground or is it larger than all of us?
I think the media naturally chooses to focus on men in the industry. The women in hospitality have recently begun a movement towards addressing the equality and diversity in the kitchen. It was a great moment to see internationally recognized Chef Dominique Crenn scold the San Pellegrino Young Chefs competition for having an almost entirely male chef panel! It takes a great woman and leader to raise a voice for all women and shame these poor decisions to exclude all great females who are cooking throughout the world. I know the kitchens I work in do not support any sexism or inappropriate behavior, not only towards women but all employees.

The Dinner Party takes place at Drake Commissary on OCT 29 and tickets are $150 plus tax and gratuity. Get them here! Follow the story at #thedinnerparty_to17.

Posted in: Food + Drink

Tags: drake art  drake commissary  jennifer dewasha  the dinner party