Name: Jessica Maiorano ft. Murray The Rescue
Age: 28 years old
Occupation: Chef @ Lawrence
Current Location: Montreal, QC
I went to school for Fashion Management and was working in mens fashion in Toronto. When I was twenty-three I decided to move to London to pursue a career in fashion. Of course, when I got to London I needed a job. I ended up landing a bar job, with a very small kitchen just behind the bar that was serving snack foods. I didn’t know at the time but it was actually one of the best wine bars in the city, Sager + Wilde. It is basically the first wine bar in London to do wine by the glass to make good wine more accessible and draw in a different crowd instead of older rich men.
I ended up going in for a trial putting together little things that were good and simple, like charcuterie boards, and making them look pretty. I ended up really liking it. I’ve always been really creative I just didn’t know what to put that creative energy into. That was really my first experience being in a kitchen and it was unique because there wasn’t a hierarchy, there was the chef that wrote the menu and then it was basically a one person kitchen, which meant I got to escape all the negative aspects of being in a professional kitchen, so I loved it. It was really social, and really fun.
We ended up going through a few chefs while I was working there and than eventually my sister joined the team, so it was just her and I. We basically told them not to hire anyone else and that we would write the menu [without any experience]. We just took it on. I don’t know what we were thinking, but we are both really creative. And, it was a very natural outlet for both of us that worked. It was a really great experience. And, then when my visa expired, I had to move back to Toronto and that is when I had my first real restaurant experience.
I got a job at a restaurant in Yorkville in one of Canada’s top 100 restaurants, which is bullshit because you just pay to be on that list but anyways. I was only there for about 3 months until I knew I had to get the fuck out of there. It was my first experience working in a professional kitchen which is really just a boys club. So much ego and sexism. Walking into that kitchen I realized it immediately. The only other female back of house with me was the pastry chef, which are usually women because baking is a “girls” job. The male cooks would plan outings and meetings with the head chefs, and never include myself or the pastry chef. I really started to question whether or not cooking was for me. If I had a made a mistake, because my mental health was deteriorating at a rapid pace. I was having panic attacks just going into work. It is just such an aggressive way to run a team, for example I witnessed a chef throw a plate of food across the open kitchen in front of customers and cooks and then send that cook home because it wasn’t “good enough”. And, in my opinion that is just the most immature way of managing somebody. We’re all human beings that deserve to treated with respect. So, literally the next day I quit.
After that I was really lost. I loved cooking, but I could never put my health, my morals or my ethics into question in order to fit into the kitchen hierarchy. I took some time off and then eventually ended up having a trial at Midfield on Dundas West and the morning of I had a panic attack, I physically couldn’t get out of my bed and I had to reschedule. I had never struggled with panic attacks before. But, a few days later I went in and I loved it. I worked there for two years. That’s where I’ve made most of my connections in the industry. For the first few months there, I worked under a female chef, which brought such a different energy. It was a very inclusive space. A nurturing and supportive environment, which has become a priority for me moving forward in my career. There was also only two of us working at a time so it was very much a team environment.
When it was time to move on, I did multiple trials at different restaurants, and checked out the environment between the cooks and the chef, or the owner, and look for other women in the kitchen, female owners, things like that. I want to work somewhere I’m proud to work in, where I know the employees are being respected. So it definitely takes me a while to find my next job, and I’ve definitely made mistakes on where I’ve chosen to work.. but I take everything I see there, and I learn from it. I’ve worked really hard to feel like I’ve “earned” my place in the kitchen. I’ve definitely had to yell twice as loud as the men just to be listened too, or to have my ideas and recipes represented as my own. But I like to think that I’ve learned from every experience I’ve had, its shown me that you get respected a lot more when you treat people as equals, work as a team, and are inclusive - rather than by throwing plates.
I’m currently working for Lawrence, in Montreal. The environment there is the most inclusive one I’ve ever been in. The chef and owner really cares about all of us, it seems like such a simple thing - to care about your employees, but its definitely the rarity. I’m currently making and cooking all of the pasta for the restaurant, which is so nostalgic for me. My dad is Italian, so I have so many memories of big family gatherings, my Nonna rolling out the Gnocchi and everyone yelling across the table filled with simple good food and terrible homemade wine.
Sitting down and sharing a meal with someone is one of the best experiences in my opinion, which is why it is also very strange that I ended up working in food because I have struggled with a toxic relationship to food for most of life. I grew up surrounded by diet culture and where weight was always a “thing”. I was very restrictive until the point where I would binge. I’ve never been naturally thin, even as a kid, and I’ve always loved food, still do, and people would make comments all the time. The comments, even though they seemed harmless made me feel like I wasn’t supposed to love food (which is bullshit).
It is still something that I still struggle with. There’s days where I find myself restricting or feeling like I have to go to push harder at the gym because I went out for dinner the night before. But, I think it’s super important to be able to connect to your body and realize what it actually needs. And, overall as a vegetarian I eat relatively healthy because I enjoy it and because it makes me feel good. It gives me energy. I work out to give me energy and to help my mental health. And, really just realizing why you’re being healthy or why you’re being active and making sure that it is for the greater good of your body and your mental health instead of trying to be a certain size or number.
Truthfully, I hope that I never care again if I’m a size zero or not. I know that there will be good days and bad days. And, looking back on it now it was becoming vegetarian that really sparked my creativity when it came to food. Then starting a career in the food industry was what really brought about food education. Being surrounded by it all the time I realized how little I actually knew about food. The more I learnt about it, the less scary food became. And, don’t get me wrong I will always have this weird relationship with food because it’s ingrained into my head at this point. But, my job has definitely helped me manage my relationship with food in a healthy way. Not only has it taught me a lot, but being surrounded by beautiful produce and products has also made me be so appreciative of food and what food can do for our us and our livelihood.
It’s made me realize that food is a luxury.