Chef Amber Husband
Her Father’s Cider Bar + Kitchen
As Executive Chef of Her Father’s Cider Bar + Kitchen on Harbord, Amber Husband is somewhat shy to start, but warms up very quickly, with her great smile and infectious laugh. We sat down on a cold, sunny day to talk about inspiration, being a woman in hospitality, and food seasonality.
Refreshingly, Chef Amber is inspired by her kitchen crew, a testament to its leadership, which motivates her in ways she never thought possible. Until her current role. “They are young and eager, and get excited about food, and I am really lucky to have that,” says Amber.
Husband’s beau is Dan Sanders, Chef at Globe Bistro on the Danforth. The two draw motivation from each other, and from their voluminous cookbook collection. I met Dan and Amber many years ago at a camp for adults called Two Islands Weekend, where we spent a weekend feeding hungry campers. Let’s just say that “What happens at Two Islands, stays at Two Islands.”
They are young and eager, and get excited about food, and I am really lucky to have that
Speaking to inspiration, Amber talks lovingly about ‘Feisty Chef’ Renée Lavallée, whom she worked with in Toronto and PEI. “Renée is motivated, loves food, colourful fun and delicious food, with such a great energy. She is extremely creative and has a really spontaneous approach to her kitchen, but is disciplined, animated and comical.”
Gender and ethnic diversity is a serious issue in the hospitality industry. I asked Amber about the challenges of a woman, especially an executive chef, in the white male-dominated hospitality world. Just then, a delivery guy arrives and asks me to sign off on something, as though I am in charge – the systemic problem, right there, of inherent inequality in our society. “The Boys’ Club mentality exists, and you have to fight through it, and show your claws,” says Amber, emphatically. She is easy going, but knows she can be taken advantage of, and that boundaries have to be set.
She points out that this is a personality, not necessarily a gender, issue, and that in hospitality, you have to be tough. People have to respect, and also, to fear, you. It’s a hard life, which tests your mental and physical strength, daily.
The Boys’ Club mentality exists, and you have to fight through it, and show your claws
For people like Amber, there is no other way; it pushes them to succeed. The Boys’ Club,is changing, which is long-overdue, and more hospitality workers are standing up for themselves and others. We discuss the contradiction between the past, when a woman’s place was, stereotypically, in the kitchen – at-home, while men were typically the professional chefs. “It is important to have a balanced kitchen, to have harmony, and it is important to give everyone a chance,” says Amber.
We agree that ideas and views are rapidly changing, and that there is more change to come before we can be remotely happy because, as consumers, we want to go out to eat and have a good experience, not think about what went into crafting the experience.
It is important to have a balanced kitchen, to have harmony, and it is important to give everyone a chance
Hospitality is known to be an abusive industry, but we are only recently hearing more about this reality. Issues at the forefront of the media have amplified the message and the need for change. A lot has happened towards bettering this community in the last 18 months, and the current generation, less tolerant of abuse, is and is becoming an agent of change as it climbs through the ranks. Amber quietly leads by example from her personal experiences.
Chef Husband advises female chefs of the future to build their own success, a message meant for everyone. “Finding one’s own passion and channelling that is the key; honing that as a young cook as they grow. In basic terms, finding the fire within,” she says.
Our conversation turns to a lighter topic – dear to both our hearts – eating and cooking, seasonally. We agree that the key to flavour is in using ingredients at their peak, during local growing seasons, and in presenting them in the best possible way, on the plate. This contributes to a more sustainable way of interacting with our environment and of supporting the great local farmers that we have access to.
“Can we change the system?” I ask. “Massive change is needed,” replies Chef Husband, “and the weight of the change should be shouldered by corporate farming and government to encourage biodiversity instead of the present, mostly monoculture system we see now, which is ruining the land.”
Finding one’s own passion and channelling that is the key; honing that as a young cook as they grow. In basic terms, finding the fire within
We determine that it is up to us as citizens to affect this change, by voting on how we choose to spend our (taxed) dollars. If you eat seasonally, you help make change. Bottom line. Along these lines, we talk portion size. Consumer attitude has to change, as well, and chefs are also to blame. This is not about extremes, but about balance, and diets like the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean are better for us, as well as for our planet.
You are not expected to eat a 14oz steak yourself; it is selfish and unnecessary. Change takes time. By then, it might be too late to fix some of the problems we have caused in our world and for ourselves. When it comes to meat, as I always say, eat less, and of better quality. There is more to this issue, but for now, I conclude.
Chef Amber Husband is good people, a great chef and a leader, who lifts people up. Real recognises real. Work hard, focus on yourself, do good things.