Sitting before me is an Indian vegan dish of sweet potatoes, tomato, and spicy black chickpeas—creamy, balanced, and richly spiced. It was created by renowned chef and cookbook author Meeru Dhalwala and Vancouver Community College (VCC) culinary program student, Jacqueline Munoz. The dish is paired with a 2018 Narrative Riesling from Okanagan Crush Pad Winery in Summerland, B.C. chosen by Botanist sommelier, Jill Spoor.
We’re at Chambar restaurant for “Yes Shef!”, where a number of noted women chefs and sommeliers have been paired with up-and-coming female culinary stars in a mentorship exercise designed to advocate for more women in executive roles in the hospitality industry.
“In Okinawa, they use sweet potatoes as a staple and they seem to live forever—so this must be their secret,” Dhalwala jokes as she introduces the dish on the table at Chambar restaurant. The co-founder of Vij’s and Rangoli restaurants in Vancouver introduces Munoz. “We’re a very nice match here, in terms of spices,” she notes, adding that they also share a similar approach to cooking.
“We Indians move a lot, we Indians talk a lot, and I think so does our cuisine.” Working together in the kitchen at Rangoli before the dinner, the two women were figuring out the spicing of the dish. “Jacqueline says to me, ‘Okay, okay the cumin, now the turmeric, the chilis, the mustard seeds, the cloves,’” recalls Dhalwala. “I put it all in the pot. I’m stirring, I smell it, and then I add more. That’s what Indian food is all about; it’s the anthesis of baking.”
Dhalwala tells us that Munoz left her native Mexico with her husband and children to pursue her passion for the culinary arts. It was a difficult and challenging choice, as Joanna Jagger from WORTH Association (who conceived the event) concurs.
“To be a world-class chef is no easy feat,” Jagger says. “Imagine the early mornings and the late nights, the years of grueling study, the memorization, the practice, the blind tasting, the black box competitions, the blood, sweat, and tears—then learning that, as a woman, the tears can only be in the walk-in cooler when no one’s looking.”
Dhalwala steps forward, throwing a look of admiration towards her own mentee who, she notes, should be up to such a challenge. “Jacqueline,” Dhalwala says, “is a qualified electrical engineer.”
Also mentoring culinary students for the dinner were chefs Andrea Carlson of Burdock and Co., Tia Kambas of Chambar, Mariana Gabilondo of La Mezcaleria, and Eleanor Chow of Cadeaux Bakery. Sommeliers for the night were Wildebeest’s Christina Hartigan, Chambar’s Kelcie Jones, Apéro Mode’s Maude Renaud-Brisson, and Café Medina’s Jenna Briscoe.
“YES SHEF! Elevating Women in Food and Wine Dinner” was hosted by Chambar restaurant. Through mentorship and networking, WORTH Association aims to get more women into executive roles in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries.