2022 saw the Michelin Guide’s arrival in Canada, a highly-anticipated achievement for the country’s fine dining scene. Over the course of a few months, the famed Michelin Inspectors sampled fare across Toronto and Vancouver before announcing the 132 eateries in both cities, spanning everything from Indian street food to high-end Japanese Omakase.
The Michelin Guide classifies restaurants into the following categories: One Star, Two Stars, Three Stars, the Bib Gourmand (good eats at affordable prices), and the largest ‘Recommended’ category. There are 132 restaurants in Canada’s two Michelin Guides (72 in Toronto and 60 in Vancouver), but only eight are under all-female leadership. For International Women’s Day 2023, we’re celebrating those eight Michelin-recommended Canadian eateries that are completely woman-run.
Burdock & Co in Vancouver (One Star): Andrea Carlson
Chef Andrea Carlson’s farm-to-table restaurant Burdock & Co. is the only woman-owned restaurant in Canada to receive a Michelin Star. She told Vancouver Magazine that the win was a total surprise, but ultimately not a hugely impactful one: “Burdock has always been a really value-driven business – we are focused on sustainability and supporting our local food system network, and creating food that is seasonally based and unique – that’s always been our focus, and that will continue to be our focus,” she explained. It was exactly that approach that impressed the Inspectors, who wrote that “Burdock & Co stands out with its rustic appeal and Chef Andrea Carlson’s farm-to-table cooking.”
Carlson is a longtime fixture in the Canadian culinary circuit, known for her dedication to the ‘100-mile menu’ and love of botanicals and ferments. She has long been looked to as a source of inspiration for aspiring female chefs – asked in 2018 about her advice for young women who aspire to be chefs or restauranteurs, she offered this: “Be true to your passions for food – whether it’s a style or cuisine and seek out opportunities to work with foods and people that inspire you. Never ever stick around toxic people or workplaces – life is too short and it will kill your creativity.”
Gia in Toronto (Recommended): Jenny Coburn & Stacey Patterson
The Michelin Inspectors raved about the vegetarian panko-crusted meatballs, crab cakes with bagna cauda and pappardelle Bolognese at Gia, writing that “You could have a full dinner at this narrow hotspot in Trinity Bellwoods and not even realize that everything is meatless.” The restaurant is owned by power couple Jennifer Coburn and Stacey Patterson, who were together for over 10 years before they opened up their first restaurant – Ufficio – at the same location. In 2021, the seafood-heavy resto underwent a rebrand and became Gia: a plant-focused Italian eatery that Coburn said “felt more authentic to us.” Clearly, something went right.
In addition to their culinary accomplishments, the pair have a track record of launching initiatives to support women in their industry. In 2018, they launched a dining series at Ufficio to fund two George Brown scholarships for new female chefs. Reminiscing about their relationship and careers, Stacey told Foodism that “We’ve really connected to a lot of females in the industry, by having our own restaurant and being female-focused.”
Bacchus in Vancouver (Recommended): Elpie Marinakis and Marousa Dumaresq
The Wedgewood Hotel was opened in downtown Vancouver in the eighties by Greek-born Eleni Skalbania, who grew it into an elegant and popular destination by the 21st century. It’s now owned by her daughters, Marousa Dumaresq and Elpie Marinakis, though the day-to-day management duties go largely to managing hotel director Elpie.
Chef Rob Feenie currently helms the kitchen at the hotel’s Bacchus restaurant, using a rotation of seasonal British Columbia ingredients to create clean and classic dishes like tomato soup and flavourful chopped salads. The Inspectors raved about the ambiance, saying that “Bacchus transports guests to a more refined era. There’s even a grand piano to boot.”
Adrak Yorkville in Toronto (Recommended): Ambica and Madhu Jain
Mother-daughter duo Ambica and Madhu Jain opened the doors of their upscale Indian eatery in Yorkville just six months before the Michelin Inspectors came. Like most diners, the first thing the Inspectors noticed is the exquisite golden decor: “How many dining rooms could you describe as regal? This is surely one of them,” the review begins. “But good looks can only take you so far, and this kitchen rises to the occasion with precisely seasoned, carefully cooked dishes inspired from regions all across India.”
The restaurant, which first opened a location in Richmond Hill, has a unique structure to achieve that – rather than having one head chef, the kitchen is divided into sections with individual leaders. Almost all have trained under Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia, and come together to execute an expansive menu that encompasses multiple regional Indian cuisines. The thecha paneer tikka and puff pastry chicken biryani particularly stood out to the Inspectors.
Homer St. Cafe in Vancouver (Recommended): Lilliana de Cotiis
Lilliana de Cotiis runs the hospitality arm of Vancouver real estate giant Amacon Developments, with a portfolio of restaurants and hotels under her wing. Homer St. Cafe opened nearly a decade ago in the historic Homer building with a focus on rotisserie cooking, which is now renowned – the Michelin Inspectors described the rotisserie chicken and biscuits as “a stick-to-your-ribs satisfying meal” and concluded that “Homer St. Cafe delivers on its promise of comfort food done really well.”
The de Cotiis family has been a source of intrigue in Vancouver for some time – Lilliana is one of five siblings who have made national headlines over the years as the family business grew, and she’s been repeatedly singled out as one of the most prominent figures in an immensely powerful family. Homer St. Cafe also has a woman leading the kitchen – chef de cuisine Brittany Lygo.
Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen in Toronto (Recommended): Janet Zuccarini and Andrea Lawrence
Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen occupies a restored century row house in the Fashion District and serves what the Michelin Inspectors described as “succulent jerk chicken, expertly cooked over a wood-burning grill to achieve an ethereal marriage of smoke, sweetness and spice – as good as any you’re likely to find this far from a beach.” The restaurant is owned by Gusto 54 Restaurant Group (co-founded by CEO Janet Zuccarini and Chief Culture Officer Andrea Lawrence), which owns a string of high-end eateries across North America. In fact, this isn’t Zuccarini’s first meeting with the Michelin Guide – her Venice Beach trattoria Felix caught the attention of the Inspectors in the 2019 California Michelin Guide.
Grey Gardens in Toronto (Bib Gourmand): Jen Agg
It’s no surprise that Jen Agg made it to the Michelin Guide – the Toronto restauranteur has multiple trendy eateries and a consistent online presence that makes her stand out. Grey Gardens is Agg’s wine bar and seafood resto, opened up in 2017 in Kensington Market. She describes her mission with the business like this: “Every restaurant I’ve ever made, I’ve made for me, and where I’ve been in my life. Grey Gardens is no different, I’ve just learned a lot (and have a slightly bigger budget).” The Inspectors seemed to enjoy her vision – they wrote that “Everyone is drawn to restaurateur Jen Agg’s hip, boisterous venue, which manages both style and substance with confident charm.”
Bar Vendetta in Toronto (Recommended): Jen Agg
Agg’s Bar Vendetta also made the cut, with the Michelin Inspectors declaring that “Anyone with a kitchen no bigger than a hotel closet should look to this narrow nook for inspiration. Truly, it is a wonder how restaurateur Jen Agg and her team manage to turn out so many from-scratch breads and pastas.” That narrow nook was originally The Black Hoof, Agg’s flagship charcuterie-focused restaurant that began her ascent in the Toronto culinary scene. The business was overhauled and became a pasta and sandwich spot in 2019, with another extensive wine list à la Jen Agg.