A sit-down with exceptional women

A sit-down with exceptional women

The wine and food industry is no longer exclusive to men. Learn how five women are (very successfully) making a living of wine and food.

Maître D, Foxy

Véronique Dalle

Wine lovers first met the sommelier at Pullman, Montreal’s first-ever wine bar, where she spent 15 years. She eventually opened Moleskine, a local pizzeria with a wine list that, despite being short, was always on point. She also taught at the ITHQ, training Carl Villeneuve-Lepage (Toqué!), Isabel Bordeleau (Pullman, Maison Boulud, 357C), Djosef Laroche (Bouillon Bilk), and other renowned sommeliers in Quebec. “Being a sommelier is a fascinating job, and I love it! But it’s hard work,” explains the businesswoman. “For one thing, when people are off, we’re working. It’s especially trying for families. And it’s also physically demanding. The unusual schedules and spending 60 hours a week on the floor isn’t easy. Plus, we’re not getting any younger.” This reflection, combined with her intense desire to acquire new skills in an effort to leave her mark in the world of wine, recently led Véronique to join the Olive & Gourmando group.* “I’m in the midst of a transition. I’m currently managing their operations, and at Foxy, sommelier Kaitlin Doucette is doing an excellent job devising the wine list. I’m mentoring and exploring other restaurant avenues. I’m reinventing myself in order to stay relevant, and to ensure my wine knowledge can be used on a deeper level. This group has a very strong brand, allowing me to grow beyond the cellar and the floor. Plus, Dyan Solomon and Éric Girard have always valued the place of women in a world that was once dominated by men. Their values very much reach mine.”

*The Group consists of the Italian cafe Un Po’ di Più, restaurants Foxy and Foxy Time Out, the Olive & Gourmando bakery, and BOG Time Out.


Photo credit: Dominique Lafond

President, SAQ

Catherine Dagenais

The first woman to hold the position of President in SAQ history, Catherine Dagenais will be celebrating two years at the head of the crown corporation next June. “I’m fortunate to get to grow in an environment that values female leadership and parity, despite the fact that when I started some 20 years ago, it was a man’s world. I made my place thanks to my experience and values. At some point, I came to understand that I had control of my own destiny. And if my journey can inspire other women, then I think I’ve succeeded.” As a company leader, she is growing to understand the powerful impact of the relationships she has both inside and outside the organization. To get to where she is today, Catherine Dagenais had to put everything on the line. In the past, she had to leave a job she loved because she knew that being a woman alone would stop her from moving up. Five years ago, she went back to school, at HEC Montréal. “We shouldn’t be afraid to take risks and take on new challenges. I always encourage my daughters to do what they love, and not to be afraid to share their goals with their supervisor. You always need to think about what else you can do to progress. From a humane standpoint, be confident; even if you have doubts sometimes—that’s normal. What’s important is to move forward.”



Co-owner, Côté EST

Perle Morency

Named after the Perles River that goes through Kamouraska, it’s no surprise that Perle Morency is so true to her region. A true figurehead, this lover of food, organic agriculture, and natural wines was a locavore before that was even a thing! She is part of the small group who introduced our own Curieux Bégin to the people of Bas-Saint-Laurent. Neither a chef nor a sommelier, the restauranteur has nevertheless devised her fair share of wine lists and stirred the sauce many a times when help was needed. It was only in 2012, however, that she who grew up in the very popular Niemand bakery took over the rooms of the rectory and opened up the Côté Est bistro with her husband, Chef Kim Côté. Their son Lukas was six at the time. Nowadays, the teen who always thought he was made for the kitchen has found a love for the service side. This is but one example of the seasoned manager’s hard work, shining a light on the people of her community. “We live in a town of about 500; this requires an organic management of our resources and talents. For instance, our rent at La Fabrique contributes to the financial health of the church, and the vegetables and herbs harvested by the restaurant’s employees are highlighted in the cocktails and dishes we serve. I’m perfectly fine with saying that I lead a group of bossy women. We come up with new ways of doing things as needed, but I make it my duty to support people from here. I am committed to buying full productions. So when one of our producers comes with tons and tons of pears, we get to work and make preserves. My wine list is true to Cyril (Kerebel) of La QV, my cocktails are flavoured with local products, and although 90% of our food is produced within a 20-km radius, I can still boast that my offering is very diverse. I lead like a mother, with my knowledge, my intuition, and my love for others.”


JHA Photographie


Sommelier and manager, Les oiseaux rares

Isabelle Claveau

Hailing from Bas-Saint-Laurent, Isabelle Claveau opened her own wine bar in Rimouski in September, after a decade spent working in Quebec (Le Cercle) and Montreal (Buvette Chez Simone, Le Comptoir charcuteries et vins). The people of Rimouski had already had a taste of natural wine at Le Sang Royal restaurant, which is now closed. She found it a shame to leave regulars high and dry. The young thirty-something, free as a bird, decided to put her energy into what she refers to as her “little pink box,” pink being the colour she chose for the 20-seat wine bar. “I chose a spot with affordable fixed expenses. I’m debt-free, and the limited space is conducive to conversation.” Although she sometimes feels like she’s running a marathon every week, this woman knows where she’s going. “When I got here, I noticed how isolated restauranteurs are. In Montreal, we all visit each other’s restaurants. So I sent a bus out to bring in samples from fabulous little eateries that don’t have the means to travel, and I invited seven managers to my kitchen. Some had never even met before! Everyone was saying how amazing it was. Soon, the food became secondary, as the wine took over.” For the public, Claveau created the event C’est pas parce qu’on aime le vin qu’on est snob (just because you like wine doesn’t mean you’re a snob), bringing in an importer and a chef to receive her guests. “I want to build bridges. That’s my talent – my superpower – and I have every intention to use it! Les oiseaux rares is just an excuse to bring people together.”



Executive Chef, Vin Mon Lapin

Jessica Noël

Jessica Noël shines alongside owners Marc-Olivier Frappier and Vanya Filipovic, whom she met when they were part of the Joe Beef family at Vin Papillon. She has an impressive track record. She took classes at Toqué! before earning two diplomas from the ITHQ. She was recipient of the Grands Chefs Relais & Châteaux scholarship, and was working at Vin Mon Lapin when it ranked second best Canadian restaurant on the prestigious list set up by enRoute magazine in 2018 and Restaurant of the year at the 2019 Lauriers de la gastronomie Québécoise awards. She perfected her knowledge in Europe, at Maison Pic. However, it was in the U.S., alongside Dan Barber, that she really made her mark, spending two years at the Blue Hill At Stone Barns. “I was thrilled to be among my people,” admits the thirty-something-year-old. She is moved that people like her cooking, but she doesn’t think it necessary to put women in a different category, even though she acknowledges that there aren’t many of them in this field. “This job isn’t for everyone. When I started, at 26 years old, it took lots of maturity and self-confidence. Personally, I didn’t face any challenges as a result of being a woman. I support the women of my community, but above all else, I am passionate about what I do. And that’s worth celebrating!”


Photo credit: Dominique Lafond

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