By Catherine Dunwoody
Even though it’s 2017, it’s hard to believe that women in the restaurant business are not as commonplace as we would like to think. Chef Shelome Bouvette, co-executive chef and co-owner of Chicha shares her story:
Can you tell me about how you started your career as a chef?
Shelome Bouvette: I attended VCC Culinary School and after graduation worked at Delilah’s, Allegro, and Lolita’s but learned the most under Chef Tina Fineza at Bin 942 who was a huge influence.
You’ve been at Chicha for how long now?
Bouvette: We feel honoured and blessed to have been in business for almost five years, in a city where competition is very tough. I am entirely responsible for the concept and menu, always a challenge, but hard work pays off.
How was it cracking the world of male chefs as a female?
Bouvette: You know in hindsight I recognize the scarcity of women chefs and the obstacles to overcome. However I feel very fortunate that when I was growing into my own and working to build a reputation for myself I never felt I was at a disadvantage because I was a woman and I recognized the real women trailblazers before me made that possible for me.
Who are some key women that helped sculpt your career?
Bouvette: Lila Gaylie owner of Lolita’s gave me the opportunity to be the opening executive chef of both her restaurants; Lolita’s and Me and Julio’s. The late Chef Tina Fineza is my mentor as a chef and person. I worked for her at Bin 942 and she had a huge impact on the Vancouver food scene and her motto was always it’s about the work you produce- gender, sexual orientation, race, age has nothing to do with the food you make, so put your head down and put your ego aside and create something amazing.
Have you worked in formal kitchens before?
Bouvette: I always worked in progressive kitchens that were changing the Vancouver dining scene; away from fine dining and very casual to a hybrid of a smaller casual restaurant with different concepts, adding depth and complexity to dishes, movement to local and sustainability – innovation was happening. I feel during that time I was part of a group of young up and coming chefs and we all had endless creativity, the passion for food, and the youthful drive to become the best and we were all such close friends. We worked and motivated each other to be the best. It was an exciting time, I grew into being a chef while making lifelong friends who have done the same. I am very fortunate for the opportunities and community I had growing as a young chef.
Do you have a family?
Bouvette: Yes, for most of my career I have been a single mom and am the mom to a 15-year-old teenage son. My ex and I are on good terms and we share the parenting of our son. We are very lucky and both have amazing and supportive families who have helped us raise a kind happy kid who is a killer baseball player whom we are both really proud of.
What are your signature dishes at Chicha?
Bouvette: So many! Chicha is a modern Peruvian fusion tapas restaurant which is fun for me because I can have fun and create so many dishes. Currently I have 5 different types of ceviche. Many different styles from traditional (citrus, chili, seafood) and traditional Peruvian ceviche accompaniment (corn, onions, poached yam) to more Peruvian Japanese Nikkei style. Everyone loves the empanadas and I change the fillings and create different specials. I’m a trained pastry chef so my dough is really great! [Laughs]
What is the Peruvian dish causa like?
Bouvette: I recommend everyone to try a causa – it’s chilled whipped potatoes layered with seafood and vegetables. The most popular at Chicha is the causa with Peruvian aji Amarillo chili pepper, layered with Dungeness crab, avocado and mango and topped with a cherry tomato corn salsa and poached side stripe prawns.
Do you have any new projects coming up soon?
Bouvette: Last year I was honoured to be inducted into the BC Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a worldwide society of professional women who provide leadership in culinary and similar fields, and I have been devoting some of my (very limited) spare time to a number of our committees. We just raised close to $10,000 at a culinary garage sale that I co-chaired, and on November 9th I am partnering with Isabel Chung from the Fairmont Whistler at Chicha for a special ticketed dinner event. I’m also hosting a Modern Peruvian cooking class at Gourmet Warehouse on November 16th.