The refrain that 'no women applied' has been in heavy rotation lately. Peter MacKay used the identical response when questioned about the lack of female representation on federal judiciary panels. The response is offered as a conversation closer when, in light of matters related to diversity and equity, it should be only the beginning.
Most folks of reasonable intelligence suspect 'no women applied' is a lie. An editorial in the Globe & Mail made just this point in writing: "Mr. MacKay has yet to offer an explanation why the number of minority judges is so shockingly low, when several surveys suggest the pool of qualifying candidates is hardly shallow."
The criterion for the Hawskworth scholarship is simple and appears to contain no barriers to inclusion. The website reads: "If you’re a young Canadian chef, under 28, have Red Seal certification and are working full-time with a professional kitchen, then you can enter..."
Coupled with a solid prize, I imagine the applicant pool is highly competitive.
The Western Heat was held at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), a provincial college in Calgary that has a sizable and reputable culinary program. Female enrollment would likely run to the same numbers as colleges in Canada with similar programs — approximately 40 percent. There are two culinary programs in large public colleges in Alberta - at SAIT in Calgary and NAIT in Edmonton. Given this applicant potential and the size of the province, I'm shocked that not a single young female cook applied. I wonder what SAIT made of the absence? Could it ignore the fact that a substantial part of its student population was missing? Did it consider the financial benefits that young women bring to its culinary programs and the school at large?
Did chef Connie DeSousa of Calgary's celebrated Charcut restaurant note the absence? She was one of the judges for the Western Heat.
I wondered too what actions David Hawksworth and Kristian Eligh, the chefs charged with choosing the regional competitors, took when they realized that no women were applying? Did they encourage the culinary community to rally by engaging school administrators and industry support in Alberta? When a vibrant and talented faction of our workforce is absent or missing, I expect an expression of concern followed closely by action.
The questions are vital because this is about our industry young — a sector ripe with hope, dreams, and ambition. Fundamentally, scholarships are meant to inspire. They play an important role in advancing the quality of our industry by investing in young cooks. But for one region of this country, access seems to be limited. Correctly or not, when I see a photo of ten young men, I assume there is a barrier.
If it is the case that 'no women applied' for the scholarship in Alberta then I'd like to hear why from young female cooks in that province. What is it about this event that discourages young women in Alberta from imagining themselves as winners? Are they being encouraged by chefs and mentors to aspire to this? I'm an established chef in Ontario with plenty of connections to young cooks in industry and I recently advised a small group of them, of both sexes, to apply for the Mad Grant.
The competition has attracted some of the Canadian culinary industry's most esteemed leaders in restaurants, hotels, journalism and education. There's enough talent to create so much more. There's enough talent to do so much better. But I'm uncertain if the fact that 'no women applied' is the end or the beginning of the conversation for the Hawskworth Young Chef Scholarship. For this year in Alberta it's the end. I'm holding out hope that scholarship administrators will take initiative in this matter going forward and not wait for external forces to note the obvious. The substance and reputation of such a prestigious competition is seriously diminished when no women apply.