15 September 2018

Culinary Leaders: Maria Desaulniers & Michelle Matheson

Every dish that comes out of The Pointe Restaurant is a coordinated effort. From daily prep to cleaning dishes, being on the line and deciding on tomorrow’s menu, every member on the kitchen team is integral to helping its operations run smoothly. It’s incredible to see how each person applies their unique skills to their role, and we’re always inspired to have such motivated multi-taskers on staff.

However, working in a kitchen, with its demanding hours and expectations, is not always conducive to living a very “regular” life. In particular, women working in traditionally male-dominated fields face an array of challenges and it takes extra effort to find balance. Even today—with a heightened awareness of gender equality and moves of affirmative action—women often find barriers to becoming regarded as “equals” to their male counterparts.

Thankfully, there are more and more women coming into their own in the culinary field. As they prove their capabilities and add charisma to the atmosphere and fare, they’re simultaneously providing much-needed mentorship for the upcoming generations of cooks and chefs who are finding their first steps on this career path.

We are proud to have seen many talented women as part of our esteemed kitchen staff over the years, sometimes making up half the team. Driven, adventuresome and passionate, we currently have nine exceptional women working in The Pointe kitchen, and two on our Pointe leadership staff: Michelle Matheson, Junior Sous Chef (pictured right), and Maria Desaulniers, Pastry Sous Chef (pictured left).

Michelle and Maria followed different paths to become chefs, but both were inspired, in some way or another, by their parents, and both share a passion for infusing creativity into the food they prepare.

“I love making food look beautiful, I live for it. There's something about the finesse and daintiness you need to make something look beautiful,” says Michelle, though she only discovered the interest in food aesthetics and styling halfway into her already outstanding career. Michelle started out cooking with her family—her grandma, mother and uncle—before taking a job in a restaurant in 2007. She loved it, and a few years later wound up studying at the Culinary Institute of Canada in P.E.I. After graduating, she worked in several kitchens (The Cedar House in Cape Breton, Grand Pré Winery in Wolfville) and competed (and been awarded) nationally and internationally before finding her way to Tofino and the Wickaninnish Inn four years ago. This week Michelle is back on the East Coast to participate in P.E.I.’s International Shellfish Competition (September 13-16), and she’s up against some tough competition!

Maria joined our team in 2013 and is still constantly exceeding expectations. “Dad inspired me to ‘Do what you love and money will follow.’ He was a stonemason, so, similar to making cakes, but with bricks,” she says of her early influences, and her love of the art of baking has taken her far. With a Baking and Pastry Arts Certificate from Cambrian College and a Designer Cake Decorating Certificate from Bonnie Gordon College of Confectionary Arts, Maria went on to work in her home province, Ontario (Deerhurst Resort, JW Marriott The Rousseau, both in Muskoka), and internationally in Australia and New Zealand. She admits that women are “often underestimated in the kitchen,” but it’s also important to see chefs for their skills, not their gender. “I just work hard and do my job and like to think that that is what people see and not whether I am male or female.”

Indeed, it’s important to highlight “women in the kitchen” not for being women, but for being the skilled professionals they are. However, we want to recognize that there is something unique about the challenges women have in facing stigma or stereotypes and juggling personal and professional demands.

We know our success at the Wickaninnish Inn is because of the what every individual brings to the team, and are grateful to have such diverse talent on staff who strive to be at the top of their game.

“To be in this industry, especially at a level required of the Wickaninnish Inn and Relais & Chateaux, you have to have a desire to constantly learn and adapt to new situations. Your brain is firing on all cylinders. One day is never the same as the next,” Maria says.

And with inspiring people such as these in our fold, we cannot wait to see what tomorrow might bring!

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