A talk hosted by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers about race, class and privilege in the wine industry was the wake-up call for Carrie Rau.
“If you don’t see a lot of people like yourself being represented, you never think you’re going to have a seat at the table,”says the Red Seal Certified Chef who aspires to become a candidate for a Master of Wine. Rau, who is of Cree descent, grew up and trained in Stratford, working back-of-house jobs at various local restaurants, has built a career that’s equal parts side-hustle ambition and pandemic necessity.
She’s a research and development chef at a large test kitchen in Toronto, works part-time in George Brown College’s culinary school and teaches Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) wine levels 1 and 2 with the Independent Wine Education Guild (IWEG).
It’s “a big thing,” notes Rau, when students ask her about her career choices. “Maybe I’m more approachable,” she says, “and a person of colour [may] feel more comfortable asking me about my own journey.”
Rau is one of seven co-founders of Vinequity, which cultivates next-generation diverse and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) leaders among Canadian wine professionals. Since launching last fall, the non-profit has created and facilitated mentorship and scholarships for WSET and the Court of Master Sommeliers. Rau is also on the scholarship committee for Femmes Du Vin, an international grassroots organization that promotes opportunities for women in the wine industry and has a strong presence in Canada.
Adopted during the Sixties Scoop by a white family, Rau is now embracing roots that she has traced back to her people in northern British Columbia. “I didn’t get a chance to learn Indigenous culinary traditions from my elders growing up. Maybe now I will.”
She counts as her mentors California-based wine writer Elaine Arnaqiaq Chukan Brown and Canadian wine educator Elsa Macdonald, both of whom have inspired her to obtain her Master of Wine certification.
“I don’t know of any Indigenous people who are Masters of Wine,” says Rau. “I’d love to be the first.”
Photo Credit: Ashley Capp