Québécoise Queens of Cuisine

When the cultural and the culinary meet

By David Szanto, Ph.D.

Over history, it has been common for gastronomic heritage to be handed down from one generation of women to the next. Québécoise icon Jehane Benoît worked to codify our culinary heritage while also embracing microwave ovens and corporate sponsorship. A few decades on, Italian-born Angiola Rizzardo became popular educator Soeur Angèle, mixing culinary simplicity with media savvy. There was even a cheese named in her honour.

Today, a blend of tradition and innovation continues to characterize our food landscape, including numerous initiatives in entrepreneurship, education, and culture. Women lead these projects more often than not.

Like Mme Benoît, Maurín Arellano is driven by both communitarian and commercial motives. She is a local-seasonal caterer and chef-owner of the co-working kitchen space, Centrale Culinaire. Ms. Arellano uses food as a way to forge relationships and open people’s eyes to the potential of what is already around them.

Located in the Mile End’s art-and-tech zone, Centrale Culinaire is born out of today’s sharing economy. It is a production kitchen for food start-ups needing part-time access to infrastructure, a gathering point for culinary workshops, and an informal canteen for the loft building’s many tenants.

Every weekday, a low-cost lunch is prepared, happily gobbled up by the artists and website developers from the surrounding studios. “Everything here is about community,” Arellano says. “We feed the people in the building, making sure the artists eat well, and offering a communal table where we can share stories and build connections.”

On the catering side, Arellano creates local, seasonal menus for small-scale dinners, while opening up dialogue between eaters and farmers. Recently, she designed a meal highlighting huitlacoche, a fungus sometimes called “corn mushroom,” which is much prized in her birth-country of Mexico. Farmers in Québec generally discard any crop infected by huitlacoche, but thanks to Arellano, at least a few are now actively cultivating it and making a profit.

In a similar vein, storyteller and producer Leigh Kinch-Pedrosa strives to bridge cooking, pleasure, and learning through her collaborative program, Food Core. Each event focuses on a single ingredient, but using three different lenses: a social-historical perspective, the food’s chemical-nutritional aspects, and a surprise culinary angle. To date, the team has taken on corn, ginger, and eggs. In 2019, they’re looking to increase the frequency of events.

A strong thread of feminist thinking also runs throughout Food Core. “We want to empower people to seek out the basic knowledge they need and want, from a variety of cultural and gender perspectives,” says Kinch-Pedrosa. “I want to create a space of cooking confidence that doesn’t rely on the oppressive, masculine atmosphere of restaurant kitchens. Something that harks back to what Soeur Angèle did — mixing straightforward techniques with basic, unprocessed ingredients and the understanding that the ‘right way’ to cook is the way you want to do it.” The lines of gastronomic inheritance from one era to another are never linear—particularly here in Québec. Yet through re-thinking and re-mixing some of the last century’s knowledge, these women are making sure that our cultural wealth just keeps moving along.

David SzantoDavid Szanto is a Montreal-based food researcher, consultant, and long-time contributor to this magazine. In 2015, he earned a Ph.D. in gastronomy from Concordia University, the first of its kind.


Spring 2019, Vol 11 N°2

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