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Women in Food and Drink: Donna Dooher

Donna Dooher

Canada’s women in food and drink are working their way up the food chain.

It’s no secret that the culinary arts are a male-dominated industry.  But enrollment in culinary schools is on target to change that scenario, making it the perfect time to profile the women who are killing it on the Canadian food scene right now.  All of our subjects will be food and drink professionals at different stages of their careers who have lots to say on the topic.   We hope to provide a little inspiration for aspiring females in the business,  and perhaps a tip or two for navigating the challenges in the industry.

Donna Dooher has been a prominent part of Toronto’s restaurant scene since she opened much-loved Mildred Pierce Restaurant in 1989.

She went on to create the Cookworks Cooking Studio, which she then parlayed into a popular Food Network show called Cookworks, watched by foodie fans around the world. Donna lays claim to introducing brunch to the sleepy town of TO when Sundays were just a day of ‘rest’, resulting in her award-winning cookbook Out To Brunch. After that, she joined forces with the countries top designers and publishers to bring Wish magazine to Canadian readers and the best seller Market to Table Cookbook.
Donna’s latest venture is Mildred’s Temple Kitchen, a showcase for her passion for locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, simply and sumptuously prepared. Donna is actively involved in Canada’s hospitality community and a self-proclaimed ‘fork hugger’ dedicated to supporting Ontario farmers and local agriculture. Donna served as both the Chair and CEO of Restaurants Canada and is National Chair of Taste Canada.


C100B: What’s the difference between men & women in the kitchen?

Donna Dooher: Women are like chicken and dumplings: gentle cooking required, a rich broth resulting from cooking the whole bird and a peak under the lid now and then to check the tender, fluffy dumplings.

Men are all pork and beans; toss boiled beans in a pot with molasses, garlic and a couple of trotters, frequently a gassy finish.  Fortunately, I savour both dishes!

C100B:  Is there such a thing as style in a hot kitchen?  

DD:  I’m delighted to see the young cooks today making a fashion statement with their jackets, aprons, head-gear and tattoos.

When I first started out, kitchen whites were only made for the male physique. I took all my jackets in for alterations, shortened the sleeves, threw in a couple of darts, and was good to go.  I refused to wear the tall white paper hat, and my closet was full of John Fluvog clogs.

As a young cook, I discovered very quickly that heavy mascara and line cooking don’t mix. Opening and closing a 500F oven door during service with the constant blast of heat will melt the lashes together.

C100B:  What advice would you give to a young woman starting out?

DD: The first thing to acknowledge is that we start out as cooks. While you master your craft begin developing the important skills that will make you a great Chef:   patience, teaching, mentoring and constantly looking for ways to challenge yourself and your team to achieve new heights. Pay your dues and don’t take shortcuts, the investment will be well worth it in the long run.

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