Culinary News

London Women in Food (2019): Ten Talented Women Making a Difference

Kym Wolfe
Written by Kym Wolfe

Tabitha Bartlett
Co-Owner/Operator,La Noisette Bakery & Deli

Photo by Alieska Robles, alieskarobles.com

“I grew up in a family that ate meat and potatoes,” says Tabitha Bartlett, co-owner/operator of La Noisette Bakery and Deli. “I started experimenting with different foods when I was about 10 — basic, but I had fun with it. I reached a point where I couldn’t teach myself anymore… I might be aging myself, but it was before YouTube and Google were the go-to for recipes. So I enrolled in the culinary program at Fanshawe.”

Fast forward through graduating with a diploma in Culinary Management, working in the industry for more than 15 years, and managing a large chain restaurant, all the while holding tight to “massive dreams of one day opening my own place.” Almost five years ago she finally did, with business partner Dave Coulter, an experienced Cordon Bleu chef. 

“I love that food brings people together, it’s common ground — no matter who you are or what you do, where you’re from, you need to eat. One good meal really can open up good conversation,” says Bartlett. “When I was very young, my grandparents nearly opened their own restaurant. It never happened, but I thought it was so cool at the time. It came back to mind when I was talking to my mother about growth for our business and what the next year may hold for us, and she told me that my grandfather would’ve been so proud of me. All the memories of the restaurant-that-never-was came rolling back. So now I feel a new sense of purpose for what I do.”

Chandany Chen
Pastry Chef, Abruzzi Ristorante

Chandany Chen’s first degree was in Science, and when she graduated she worked for a while doing research for a company that produced fertilizer. But she quickly realized, “it was not for me. I only wish I had figured that out a lot sooner!” Back to school she went, and has since graduated from Fanshawe College’s Culinary Management program and worked in kitchens in London and Port Stanley before moving to Abbruzzi Ristorante a year and a half ago. 

“I am currently the pastry chef at Abruzzi and will also be the pastry chef at Abruzzi’s sister restaurant, Taverna 1331, when it opens later this year,” says Chen. “When the chance presents itself, I also search for ways to contribute to the community as a volunteer with Growing Chefs! as a food educator for school visits or as a chef for the cooking classes.”

Chen has been a foodie from birth, she says. In her Cambodian household growing up, “we always had people in the house and everyone helped cook, from scratch, then we would enjoy the meal together. I always had an artistic side, too. Now I see every plate as a canvas, and I just want to try to make something beautiful out of it.” 

“I’d like to learn more, and I’m compiling a list of restaurants I would like to work in and pastry chefs that I would like to learn from,” she adds. “I’d like to bring those skills back to London.”

Alexandra Connon
Owner, The Boombox Bakeshop

“I was taught how to bake by my late father Fred, and inspired by his passion for all things culinary,” says Alexandra Connon. After years of research and experimentation, she combined her father’s dream of operating a food establishment with her knowledge of vegan baking and business management, and opened The Boombox Bakeshop and café in 2014. She also threw her passion for music into the mix. “You’ll never catch us without tunes playing while we are busy baking and serving up drinks and treats,” she says.

For the first four years the bakeshop specialized in vegan desserts — mainly cupcakes and mini-pies, along with a few seasonal goodies — but recently added savoury baked goods to the menu. “We always wanted to expand our menu to include lunch items, but we had space constraints,” says Connon. “Since we moved to our new space (on Adelaide Street at Princess Avenue) we have a larger kitchen and, one year in, we are ready to branch out.”

The first offering, a mushroom and lentil pot pie, was an instant hit with both vegan and non-vegan clients, she says, and customers can expect to see more options going forward. “The Boombox Bakeshop has been shaped by the Old East Village and vegan communities, and we will always be a vegan shop — there is no meat, dairy or eggs on the premises. Our goal is to make great tasting vegan food for everyone to enjoy.”

Margaret Coons
Owner, Nuts for Cheese

“I started experimenting with nut cheeses when I worked as a chef at the vegan restaurant Veg Out,” says Margaret Coons, owner and self-described “big cheese” at Nuts for Cheese. “The restaurant kitchen was actually my first production facility — I used to rent it after the restaurant closed and stay up through the night to create my cheeses.” 

Cheese-making might seem like an odd fit for someone with a BA in English Literature, but Coons is also a trained and certified vegan chef. “I became a vegetarian when I was 12 and started experimenting with food and cooking for myself at a young age,” she says. “The process of mindfully creating and delighting in food helps me stay rooted in the whole reason behind my business: a love of good, shared food.”

Nuts for Cheese crafts dairy-free and vegan cheeses from cultured organic cashews. “I experimented with sunflower seeds, hemp hearts and miso, but I ended up sticking with cashews because they are really versatile,” says Coons. “Getting the texture and mouthful feeling just right is both a science and an art. For people who cannot or choose not to consume dairy, finding something to replace that rich, savoury experience of cheese is a challenging journey.”

Her cheeses seem to have hit the mark, with word-of-mouth propelling distribution to stores across Ontario and into Quebec. “The rate at which we’ve grown has definitely been a huge manufacturing challenge,” says Coons, who is proud to note that all products are still hand-crafted, right here in London. 

Michele Lenhardt
Pastry Chef, Rhino Lounge Bakery & Coffee Shoppe, The River Room, Craft Farmacy, North Moore Catering

“For me baking is an art form,” says Michele Lenhardt, whose passion for pasty-as-art has led her to positions as pastry chef in decidedly artistic settings — first at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and now at the Rhino Lounge Bakery & Coffee Shoppe at Museum London. After moving to London 12 years ago she created the Black Walnut Bakery Café in Wortley Village, which she owned and operated for five years before moving to her current position. 

“The most satisfying aspect of cooking and baking for me is creative experimentation and recipe development,” says Lenhardt, who studied Baking and Pastry Arts at George Brown College as well as Advanced French Patisserie. “It will often take two or three times to get it to where I want it to be. One of my specialties is the vegan donuts that I created for the Rhino.” They have proven to be popular, and are now also available at Locomotive Café — but only on Fridays. Lenhardt also produces pastries for Jess Jazey-Spoelstra’s North Moore Catering, The River Room, and Craft Farmacy.

When she’s not in the kitchen Lenhardt enjoys vintage shopping, for everything from clothing and housewares to artwork. And she has recently started working on a plant-based cookbook that will include all sorts of comfort foods. “I’m pretty passionate about plant-based cooking,” she says, and she’s enjoying the process of experimenting and developing the recipes. “I just started, so it’s a year or two away.”

Jodie Marshall
Co-owner, Marshall’s Pasta and Bakery

Meet the Marshalls: Jodie has a degree in Applied Science, majoring in Consumer Behaviour; Blake played professional football with the Edmonton Eskimos; both come from families that had their own businesses. So perhaps it’s not surprising that in their post-CFL life the Marshalls would want to start a business themselves, that Jodie would handle the human relations and marketing, and that one of their biggest client groups would be local sports teams.

Marshall’s Pasta Mill opened in 1995. Ten years ago the couple purchased Lusitania Bakery and moved their pasta business into the Adelaide Street store. With the complementary businesses under one roof, Marshall’s became a one-stop shop for a full pasta dinner with the fixings, offering a variety of fresh pastas and sauces, Portuguese breads, prepared meals, lasagna, soups, meatballs and more. 

Jodie runs the daily operations, from school hot lunches and group fundraising events, to walk-in customers and catering orders. There is also a wholesale side of the business that delivers freshly baked bread to local restaurants.

“The two things that I find most satisfying about my job are that we make really good healthy food that people love, and that we are able to help others in our community,” says Jodie. “I am involved with different social justice committees and Marshall’s supports many charitable organizations. Helping others, whether it is through my business or in my personal life, is the most important thing for me.”

Michelle Pierce Hamilton
Owner, The Tea Lounge & beTeas

When Michelle Pierce Hamilton worked in the financial and banking industry she visited tea places in different parts of the world, and was quite taken with the artistry and love demonstrated by the tea masters. “You just feel so peaceful,” she says. She started to seriously study tea when people who were close to her were diagnosed with chronic diseases, and she realized that constant travel and unhealthy eating and lifestyle were taking a toll on her and her family. “I felt a lack of control, and almost immediately I stopped smoking and eating fast food, and I started studying tea as a replacement for coffee, because I always had a warm beverage in my hand.”

After training as a Nutritionist and a Certified Tea Sommelier, she launched beTeas in 2010. The site educates people about the health benefits of tea, and the online store sells quality loose leaf teas, tisanes and functional tea ware. Teas are sourced from around the world, with a focus on single estate and artisanal teas from origin. 

Two years ago Pierce Hamilton opened The Tea Lounge on Piccadilly Street and created “the place I always wished I could go to” right here in London. Some of the décor comes from a Toronto restaurant that was run by her birth father. “His was the first Indo-Pakistani restaurant in Toronto,” she says. “He was never able to see the Tea Lounge in person before he passed away last year, but I had Skyped from there a few times, and he was delighted.” 

Dee Spencer
Owner, The Donut Diva Mini Donut Food Truck

A self-described “Professional Donutologist”, Dee Spencer has developed over 50 different recipes for her mini-donuts, ranging from basic to gourmet flavours like cheesecake or ‘BetterTart’ (because it tastes better than butter tart, she says). You’ll find her selling her sweet treats out of Donut Diva food truck at different locations, mainly in London. She posts her changing whereabouts on her facebook page (fb.com/thedonutdiva)

“I have been in the industry for about 35 years with jobs varying from server to general manager to corporate trainer and have always been an outside-of-the-box kind of gal,” says Spencer. “When I moved back to Ontario from Alberta and was looking at what I wanted to do I happened upon an episode of Dragons’ Den where a BC entrepreneur was pitching a Waffle Wagon franchise opportunity. After further investigation I decided that I could do something like that myself, and having loved mini-donuts at fairs out west I decided that was my niche.”

She got her business rolling (literally!) in 2011. The Donut Diva Mini Donut Food Truck is equipped with a fryer where Spencer makes mini-donuts to order and serve them up warm, sprinkled with whichever sugary topping the customer chooses. “They’re cake donuts, so they’re light and fluffy,” she says. 

Spencer is active in the London Food Truck Association, and says, “I am very proud of our Association as we are a group of elite professionals who believe in celebrating each other’s successes and working together to further the Food Truck culture in London.”

Krista Trollope
Owner and Cake Artist, Hey, Cupcake!

Up until 11 years ago Krista Trollope worked full time in accounting and did baking and cake decorating as a hobby. “I started making custom cakes the year that myself and all my childhood friends reached one of our milestone birthdays. They all loved them, and said that I should start selling them,” she recalls. “I realized that the style of custom cakes I was creating — one-of-a-kind edible pieces of art with elaborate design and detailing — were not what people would walk in to purchase every day. So I decided to feature cupcakes, and I chose this location (on Wharncliffe Road) due to the proximity with Western, where I knew that a lot of students would be my main walk-in customers.”

“Hey Cupcake was the first gourmet cupcake bakery in the city. Our slogan is ‘where art is a piece of cake’, and we still do custom cakes as well as cupcakes and cookies,” says Trollope. “In the beginning it was all self-taught, but now I have studied under many celebrity cake artists like Ron Ben-Israel, Susan Trianos, Karen Portelao and James Russell.”

For Trollope, “The best part of my job is that I am afforded the opportunity to bring a smile to someone’s face just by using my hands, heart and artistry.” That includes working with Make-A-Wish, handing out cupcakes to children, caregivers and families at LHSC’s annual World Wish Day event, and her involvement in the Parkinson’s annual fundraising event Signatures: A Taste Test of London’s Best.

Shauna Versloot
Chef & Coach/Owner, The Live Well Community

Photo by Alieska Robles, alieskarobles.com

“When I was eight years old my mom was diagnosed with stage-4 breast cancer. As an only child I was so scared to lose her. A doctor said to me ‘Try to be as healthy as you can so that you don’t get sick someday’ and I took that to heart. Fitness, nutrition and healthy cooking became my life,” says Shauna Versloot, chef, coach and owner of The Live Well Community. 

With education in Fitness and Lifestyle Management (George Brown College), Nutrition and Psychology (Western University), and Culinary Arts (Fanshawe College), a National Coaching Certification, and a culinary apprenticeship at the London Hunt and Country Club, Versloot combined her passions for fitness and foods to create Live Well Community, with her husband Dan. 

“I realized over the years that the keys to success were all about balance and living well,” she says. The Versloots are passionate about living a healthy lifestyle, and have built a community of like-minded people who participate in Live Well’s workouts, cooking classes and community events. “I feel like life throws curveballs at us that we can’t control — like cancer — but we can control our health and enjoyment of life to some extent.”

Versloot’s first food memories are of picking vegetables in her grandfather’s garden and helping her grandmother with family dinners. “My vegetable garden is still my biggest hobby to this day and preparing and sharing a meal with others — which is basically what we do in our cooking classes — is one of my favourite things to do.”   

 

About the author

Kym Wolfe

Kym Wolfe

Kym Wolfe is a London-based writer and frequent contributor to Eatdrink. She also serves as the magazine's Copy Editor. Find more of her stories at www.kymwolfe.com.