Chef in Transition: An Example of Virtuosity

21 Apr

Tucked inside her Lowertown kitchen, Chef Patricia Larkin is experimenting. On her island counter are jars of a sweet bubbly drink with different mixes of fruits and spice. On her laptop is a Youtube video (one of many she’s been watching) with instructions on raising honey bees – her newest hobby. Growing inside her indoor greenhouse are a range of organic, locally sourced veggie shoots for an urban garden that will feed her home all summer.


Only weeks ago, and for many years past, Trish Larkin has been the head chef at the Black Cat Bistro. Ready for a new challenge, she’s left the restaurant kitchen that had helped build her reputation, and turned her sights to a time of trying new projects, experiments with ideas, and taking on new challenges. For my Sister Leadership Body Smart series, I can’t think of a better embodiment of virtuosity than Trish, a chef in transition.

Today, I talk with Trish about virtuosity and her journey as a chef and business woman. What is virtuosity, you ask? Virtuosity is the mastery of a great ability or skill as in the arts, sciences or other discipline.

When I asked Trish what it’s like now, in this world of possibilities that some would call limbo, she mentioned how this – unlike the restaurant – felt like a solo mission. For instance, when working for the Black Cat Bistro, she would collaborate with her team on the menu. Now, there’s just her and her ideas. Except, in a great example of virtuosity, she’s testing new ideas by deferring to her established & trusted network, and she’s strengthening her plans for what may come next.

For Trish, this isn’t a scary time. It was a hard thing to leave the restaurant where so much of her career has been rooted. That required courage. But leaving was the hard part. Taking on new challenges? “It doesn’t take too much courage, because I’m enjoying it too much!” she shares.

Let’s dive into our interview:

Why do you love cooking, and what made you turn it into a profession?

I love pretty well everything about cooking. I love the creativity aspect of coming up with new dishes. I like the pressure too. Even sweating my ass off on the line for hours on end is something I look forward to. I love learning about the ingredients I use every day. I started an urban veggie garden in my backyard downtown which pretty well supplies us with all our produce at home in the summer months. This has really given me an appreciation for the products I receive at the restaurant. Mostly, I just really love to feed people. Good food and drink make people happy.


What was one of the greatest challenges in developing your skills as a chef, and how did you overcome that challenge?

My first job after culinary school was in a kitchen with a huge brigade at Jasper Park Lodge. In the high season, which is when I arrived, there were nearly 100 cooks. I wanted to work in fine dining and so did pretty well everyone else. The fine dining restaurant, Edith Cavell, staffed maybe five cooks. I spent my first five months or so working towards that goal. At the end of season shuffle, when we all get moved around, I didn’t get the spot I wanted. I got to make all the pastries for Cavell instead. It was the next best thing and a way to wiggle my way into the kitchen I wanted.

After another season, I got my spot in Cavell. I was pumped. It was so hard but I was making really nice food. The hours were longer than I thought possible. I was the only girl in that kitchen (no surprise) and it seemed to me the chef wasn’t pleased about it. He was particularity hard on me. I toughed it out though -with a lot of tears- but it made me a better cook. I got used to the long hours and the tough love and looking back now I appreciate what I took away from that job, both the good and the bad.


Can you describe the moment/situation where you realized you felt confident as a chef? How did it feel and what changed?

When I took over as chef at Black Cat, I was definitely nervous. For the first year I can say I was still figuring myself out. It wasn’t until our first review came out that I truly lost my nerve. I know now that reviews aren’t everything but my first review from Anne Desbrisay was everything to me. She wrote a better review of the Black Cat then I could have dreamed up and that is when I truly felt settled in my role.


For those cooking at home, can you share a few tips to help them love the experience of preparing food the way you love it?

I would start by being inspired by an ingredient you love. I think it’s the best way. Hunting online for recipes and following them step by step can make a delicious meal, but doesn’t really get the creative side of things moving. For me that’s the fun of it. Cooking for other people is always motivating and sometimes adds pressure which makes cooking more fun for me.


In a spiritual sense, what is bigger than you that you are part of? How do you contribute to it through your work?

I think sustainability in my field and in life is something much bigger than I am. Working with nature and our seasons. I try to always be learning and to be more self-sustainable and self-sufficient. It is easier to do at home. Growing food, sourcing sustainable meat and fish, making pickles, preserves and fermentations with home grown food or local farmers produce and, starting this year, keeping bees are all small ways I try to do my part. Taking care of bees, making urban gardens and making smart choices and local choices are ways I will continue to strive to be a more sustainable person at home and in business.




2 Responses to “Chef in Transition: An Example of Virtuosity”

  1. MC Lessard April 22, 2015 at 08:43 #

    I love the way you weave real stories into important themes Cam! Kudos to you for embracing and sharing your passion Trisha!


  1. Inspiring Quotes from Women in Business: Body Smart Roundup | sister leadership - August 18, 2015

    […] Read the full conversation with Trish here. […]

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