A competitive chef pursues equality in the kitchen

Confident and inclusive, Lindsay Porter advocates for women in the restaurant industry

If you’ve watched the Food Network lately, you might have seen the competitive side of Lindsay Porter (Culinary Arts ’06). She just took the top spot on an episode of Guy’s Grocery Games, an opportunity she received through her membership in the Edmonton chapter of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs.

That aspect of her character isn’t reserved for TV. In 2014, she earned bronze at Gold Medal Plates Edmonton and placed first in the steak category at the Canadian Food Championships in 2016. Recently, her competitive nature was formalized with a business plan.

After serving as executive chef in some of Edmonton’s top restaurants, she opened her own place, London Local, in October 2017 with Evonne Li (Culinary Arts ’06). But while she’s ambitious and loves to compete, Porter also hopes to inspire and support young chefs. Here, she talks about cooking on camera, self-confidence, and equality in the kitchen.

Congrats on winning Guy’s Grocery Games! You were the only female contestant. Did you feel any extra pressure?

I did a little bit. Everybody was super friendly – no one actually made me feel intimidated whatsoever. But you always kind of do. I know they are looking for a lot more female chefs on television shows and I think that is why they sought me out. But I don’t want to be chosen just because I’m a female – I want to be chosen because I’m a chef.

What did you get out of the experience?

The biggest thing that I got out of the whole competition is that I’ve been trained really well at NAIT. The culinary program is phenomenal. I’m doing a lot of extracurricular competitions and I think what I got out of it is that I’m a good cook. I can make pretty tasty food; I don’t doubt myself in what I do. I can compete against the best in North America. It was kind of a confidence booster!

"I can make pretty tasty food; I don’t doubt myself in what I do."

What was Guy Fieri, the show's host, really like?

He was really awesome. What I appreciated the most was the fact that he pulls everybody aside before the show starts and he really doesn’t want you to feel embarrassed. He said, “That’s not the point of this show; I’m going to help you guys if you are in a jam or something goes wrong.” And he does – I overcooked some noodles and he grabbed me some new ones.

lindsay porter, chef and co-owner at london localWhat sorts of things is the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs group working on?

We have been talking about bringing awareness to customers on certain things, for example why something costs what it does in a restaurant. We’ve talked about bullying in the kitchen, having a male-dominated industry and what it can be like starting out sometimes. It’s not like because we’re women-based we only talk about that; we talk about a lot of different things that are going on in restaurants and things that affect chefs and owners.

Edmonton’s culinary industry is still very male-dominated, just like it is everywhere else, and you’ve stood out as someone working to change that. Was that a conscious decision?

I am very proud of the fact that myself and Evonne are independent owners and we’re both females. We want to support females in the industry as well. I’ve hired some great women in the kitchen and I’ve also hired some great guys. One of the biggest things that I wanted to push was just feeling comfortable and equal in the kitchen.

"I’ve hired some great women in the kitchen and I’ve also hired some great guys."

Have you ever experienced straight-up sexism?

Oh, yeah. Especially in the beginning years. I think maybe it’s harder for females to start out in the industry. You get a lot of egotistical males trying to always one-up you and kind of show off and it can be a little bit frustrating.

Did you have any mentors?

I really appreciated working with the male chefs that really supported women in the industry. Stanley Townsend [former chair of Culinary Arts] was always so supportive. From the beginning, he was a good role model for advocating for women in the culinary industry.

What advice do you have for young women in the culinary industry?

Work with somebody you really respect and you can learn from. Associate yourself with people that you feel comfortable with. If it doesn’t feel right and you don’t feel that you’re in a good working environment, leave. There are so many kitchens out there; there are so many women and men that support everybody and support equality. You don’t have to stick anything out.

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