Assistant General Manager, Restaurants, Eataly Toronto, Toronto
Stefanie Cirillo’s vision for her budding foodservice-and-hospitality career began at the age of 15 when she started working at the family-owned Cirillo’s Culinary Academy (a cooking school and event space). She first joined Ritz-Carlton Toronto in an internship position in the banquet/event operation while completing her hotel management program at George Brown College. From the start, Cirillo demonstrated extraordinary leadership, awareness and problem-solving skills. She was quickly hired into a permanent position with the hotel and has grown her career at the Ritz-Carlton over the past 10 years, excelling at every position from server to assistant food-and-beverage manager. She has extensive knowledge of restaurant products, from her WSET accreditation to her fromager certification. In fact, as of May 2021. Ritz-Carlton Toronto has been recognized as the best-ranked food-and-beverage operation amongst all its 42 Ritz-Carlton hotels in North America. Cirillo recently joined Eataly Toronto as assistant general manager to oversee multiple restaurants.
Chef, The Common Stove, Orillia, Ont.
In his current role as head chef at The Common Stove, Ben Kersley is credited with being creative, enthusiastic, adaptive and compassionate. Kersley transitioned to this new role in 2019, and has spent the majority of his time navigating a global crisis, demonstrating exceptional leadership and flexibility, from sharing his techniques with a new team to curating special take-out menus and street-feast dinners.
“Throughout it all, Ben leads his kitchen firmly and paternally. Things must be done correctly, but he always sees mistakes as opportunities to learn,” says Simon MacRae, owner of Common Hospitality Inc. “In service, he is bold and calm. He gives clear, precise instruction; he never shouts. In the down time, he jokes and cajoles and after service continues to mentor his team, encouraging them to reflect on their performance and discuss tomorrow’s service.”
With Kersley’s enthusiasm for food and drive to develop new flavours, The Common Stove has achieved great aclaim. The restaurant was listed on Open Table’s Top 10 Best Overall Restaurants and Best Restaurants for Overall Cuisine and it won the Re-building Orillia award for its contribution to the community over the last year.
Founder, Q’s Cakes & Cafe Waterloo, Ont.
Raquel France didn’t always have her eyes on the foodservice industry. After attending McMaster University, where she pursued a Bachelor of Sciences degree, she went on to study Pastry Arts and Culinary Arts at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa, where she graduated top of her class and mastered French pastry techniques.
In 2016, just three years after graduation, she founded her own business at the young age of 24. Q’s Cakes and Café has since flourished despite the obvious pitfalls of the pandemic and France found a way to adapt and navigate the new challenges.
Peers describe her as an excellent role model and teacher to those around her.
Owner, Good Behaviour Ice Cream Toronto, Ont.
Working in some of Toronto’s finest kitchens wasn’t enough for Michael Lam, who after working on the opening teams of both Il Covo as a sous chef (2017 to 2019) and Ascari as chef de cuisine (2019 to 2021), decided he wanted to run the show.
Along with his business partner, Lam founded Good Behaviour Ice Cream in February of 2021. The writing was on the wall for Lam’s success; after spending time abroad working in restaurants in Sydney at the Attitude Restaurant in the Shangri-La Hotel and New York in the kitchen of The Modern, he returned home to capture first place in the Toronto heat of the Hawksworth Young Chef Competition and a national finalist in the same competition.
Account Manager, Snapcommerce, Toronto
Long before she finished school, Yonnie Wong was driven to succeed. In addition to completing her Bachelor degree at the University of Guelph, Wong worked two jobs at The Keg and the Hilton Garden Inn, as well as being a part of extracurricular groups.
Upon graduating, Wong’s infectious work ethic and commitment to her colleagues and job elevated her and she became the Yield Manager at Hotelbeds Canada. Here she made an immediate impact on her new colleagues and clients.
“When we met I was immediately impressed with Yonnie’s drive and ambition to quickly learn new skills and systems… Yonnie is also a joy to work with because she always had a positive attitude towards the company and team,” says Betty Zaho Marketing manager, Priceline Agoda.
After her time at HotelBeds she moved on to become the territory manager for the Greater Toronto Area for SkipTheDishes, where she consistently achieved the honour of Top 5 Territory Managers across the food-delivery program’s vast network.
Most recently, Wong joined the team at Toronto-based Snapcommerce as an account manager.
Pastry Chef and Owner, Incoho Restaurant, St Catharines, Ont.
Selah Schmoll’s earliest years were spent experimenting in her mother’s kitchen. After making a career-changing decision, Selah lived abroad in Tuscany with a retired chef, where she developed her core philosophy — respecting food, appreciating local produce and simplicity is better. In 2017, Schmoll graduated from the Culinary Management Program at Niagara College and went on to acquire a number of skills through her experiences as a line cook at the Niagara Falls Queenston Place Retirement Home and as a Commis pastry chef and pastry chef de partie at Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Trius Winery and Restaurant, under the supervision of executive chef Frank Dodd. In 2017, she travelled to India to compete in the Culinary Olympics, where she finished third in the world. She opened her first restaurant, Incoho, in 2019 with her partner, Ray Sygeco.
General Manager, The Mule, Hamilton, Ont.
Ashley Orton has worked in restaurants for much of her life and has refined her skills and knowledge to be razor sharp. This has allowed her to climb the ranks of every company she has worked at — from Shoeless Joe’s where she started serving and by the time she left was guest services manager, to the Mule where she has quickly ascended to the position of general manager.
Her passion for her job and the people she works with is what impressed Orton’s superiors the most.
“I found her to be an inspiring leader, whom I trusted endlessly to make choices that I previously would have made myself. I know her to be strong, bold and independent in her leadership but not without being humble. She truly is an example of how to represent women in leadership,” says Erin Dunham, CEO, The Other Bird.
Ray Marvin Syegco
Owner, Incoho Restaurant Corp. St. Catharines, Ont.
When Ray Marvin Syegco arrived in Canada, he had been studying nursing back home, with little aspiration for the foodservice industry. But something changed along the way. Without enough credits to continue his nursing pursuit in Canada, he applied to the Niagara College Culinary Management Course, where he took his first steps towards becoming a leader both in and out of the kitchen.
While in school, Syegco worked in Trius Winery under executive chef Frank Dodd, where he became sous chef at the young age of 25. But it was what he did during the off-season that really shaped him. He interned at several Michelin- starred restaurants across the U.S., including El Ideas in Chicago and Aldea in New York. During his time there he noticed that life as a chef/cook is draining and this inspired him to make a change.
In 2019, at the age of 27, he opened Incoho Restaurant with the goal of creating a more balanced, welcoming and sustainable environment for his back-of-house workers. His business has not only survived during the pandemic, it has done well and he’s been able to keep all of his employees.
As for the future, Syegco is hard at work preparing to open Alitura in 2021 in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
Regional Mixologist, Fairmont Hotel & Resorts in Canada’s Western Mountain Region Lake Louise, Alta.
Nils Schabert has refined his skills at some of the finest establishments the world over, working in Germany, Australia and schooling in Austria before finding himself in Canada’s west, where he would begin his upward ascent in the Fairmont Hotel & Resorts chain, starting as lead bartender before becoming the manager of Bars and Mixology and eventually being promoted to the position of Regional Mixologist for the Western Mountain Region.
In this position, Schabert showcased his work ethic and knack for working creatively when he conceptualized and launched the concept of “Fairmont’s Regional Bottled Cocktail Program” as well as developed projects such as Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Signature Whisky “Untamed” as well as Fairview Bar Gin and Fairview Bar Bottled Cocktail Range.
“Anyone who has worked side by side with Nils will agree that he’s a person of strong will and determination. He accomplishes his projects with passion, precision and great research…Nils is a person who takes great pride in his work, he finds pleasure in the creative process and as well while coaching the team,” says Shawn St. Pierre, director of Operations, Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.
Sous-Chef, The Jacob Senior Living, Beamsville, Ont.
One of Ruthann Meulen’s earliest childhood goals was to work in a kitchen. It wasn’t long before she started her first job as a weekend dishwasher and eventually pursued culinary school at Liaison Culinary College. After she graduated, Meulen took her career across the globe, starting in Banff and then moving to London, South Korea, Hong Kong and Switzerland. Now, Meulen’s back in Hamilton, Ont. and trying her hand at the retirement sector. As a successful female chef in the male-dominated culinary world, Meulen takes on challenges and stretches her potential in the field.
“Ruthann’s constant [drive] to better herself and experience new environments across the whole hospitality sector has seen her cook in the most phenomenal places around the globe,” says head chef Ruth Hansom at The Princess of Shoreditch. “She is a true inspiration; a fantastic chef and a fantastic person.”
Director of Events, Fairmont Empress Hotel, Victoria. B.C.
Lynsee Yee has used her poise and problem-solving skills to tackle even the toughest challenges put in front of her on her way to becoming the director of Events at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
As part of her responsibilities, she runs more than 100,000 sq. ft. of event space at both the Fairmont Empress and The Victoria Conference Centre. It’s a tall task for someone so young, but Yee has risen to the occasion, impressing her superiors from the first time they interviewed her.
During her time at the Fairmont Empress, Yee has collected multiple awards for her department and earned the respect of her colleagues in a short period of time.
“Lynsee handles last-minute changes with ease and grace and always has a back-up plan. Her leadership style is confident, fair but firm and professional, showing empathy when needed and a wonderful sense of humour,” as says Lisa Klimek, former director of Conference Services and Catering, Fairmont Empress Hotel.
General Manager, Earls Kitchen + Bar, Toronto
Candace Kimball has been proving her worth at Earls’ across the country for the past three years before moving to Toronto. Recently she has navigated the tough times of the COVID-19 pandemic with efficiency, resulting in her becoming the first manager across the company to break $100K in sales during the pandemic, which resulted in her being hand selected to run Earls’ newest Etobicoke, Ont. location, where she has led the recruitment and training of nearly 170 employees.
Kimball’s drive and natural leading instincts are easy to see and have impressed her superiors from the very start.
“What has impressed me the most about Candace is her ability to connect with people. She has a natural sense of hospitality and a warmth that allows people to gravitate towards her. Her self confidence allows her to be so comfortable meeting new people and building truly authentic relationships. Sometimes I forget she’s only been in Toronto for seven months,” says Sanjay Venu, regional director of Earls Kitchen + Bar.
Sous chef, Stofa Restaurant Ottawa, Ont.
Kathryn Ferries has worked in the industry for nearly 10 years and has seen improvements on all fronts. Going forward, she hopes to be a steward of even more positive change. Her career skyrocketed after working at some of the finest restaurants in Ottawa, including Atelier under Marc Lepine as a chef de partie and now Stofa as a sous chef. She also garnered the Silver Medal in the 2018 Chaine Des Rotisseurs Young Chef National Competition and won the San Pellegrino Young Chef 2020 Social Responsibility Award.
“Kathryn has a gift for flavour combinations, great technical ability and an enthusiasm for cooking and learning. During her time at Atelier, she also contributed to the creative process and has a great eye for detail when it comes to plating,” says Lepine
General Manager, The Carlu Toronto, Ont.
Upon completion of her Bachelor of Commerce degree at the University of Guelph, Meghan Wright found her home with Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality at The Carlu.
Starting as a server in 2015, she is now considered one of the best GMs in the business, and the youngest person ever to be named a GM at O&B Hospitality — all while boasting the highest client-retention rate in the company.
Nicole Kamali, national director of Operations at Oliver & Bonacini says recruiting Wright was one of the best decisions she’s made. “This $6-million property hosts some the city’s most prominent events — she oversees it all. Meghan is personable, organized and extremely detailed oriented. She is a manager who truly cares about the guest experience and the reputation that we build,” says Kamali.
Chef-de-Partie, Boehmer, Toronto
Pouravi Mediratta commits herself to a high level of expectation every time she steps foot in a kitchen. She has a strong desire and passion for cooking that pushes her to continue honing her skills, seeking out new techniques and recipes to stay current on ever-changing trends. Her passion and hard work don’t go unnoticed by her peers. She has earned a certificate in Food Production & Patisserie from the Culinary Academy of India as well as a diploma in Integrated Culinary Management from George Brown College.
During the pandemic, Mediratta shifted gears slightly and started a small business making Indian hand pies and preserves. Chaar Pies & Preserves has flourished and been featured in multiple media outlets such as Taste Toronto.
Guest Experience Manager & Chef & Concierge, Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge Jasper, A.B.
Naji Khouri lives and breathes Jasper. The Concordia University graduate completed his Bachelor of Commerce with a major in management in December 2016 and began his career at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge as a guest-service agent at the age of 22. Now, at the age of 26, his eager mind for listening, learning and supporting others has earned Khouri the invaluable position of Guest Experience manager, chef and Concierge, where he consistently provides meaningful experiences for Fairmont’s valued clientele. Additionally, Khouri holds the position of secretary/treasurer at Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce and won the Voluntold award in October of 2020. With dedication to the task at hand, he volunteers his time and contributes ideas to the team, striving to do the very best in all he does.
“One of Naji’s most brilliant assets is his smile and the honesty it brings to every situation. Never failing to wish everyone a good day, never failing to be there for any member of his professional or volunteer teams, Naji is always the ‘go to’ when it comes to any bump in any road, anywhere and at any time,” says Pattie Pavlov, executive director, Jasper Park Chamber of Commerce.
Founder and Executive Chef, The Abibiman Project, Toronto
Rachel Adjei has spent her career developing a range of culinary skills – from decorating pastries to butchery and wood-fire grilling. Since graduating from George Brown College, Adjei has worked at many culinary establishments, including Café Lulu Hazard, Momofuku, Neruda Restaurant, The Sweet Escape Patisserie and The Tempered Room. Currently, Adjei is working at Butchers of Distinction in Toronto, but she is also reaching new heights with the personal creation of The Abibiman Project, a non-profit African culinary-education initiative. “Her success with The Abibiman Project comes as no surprise to her circle of friends,” says chef Jillian Calata. “Rachel is the kind of person that pushes the boundaries and will make things happen when she puts her heart into it.”
Personal Chef, Ont.
Imrun Texeira isn’t afraid of the big stage. After working in some of the finest restaurants in Canada early in his career, he entered Food Network Canada’s hit reality cooking show Chopped, where he made it to the finals in season three. He spent the last few years interning at some of the finest restaurants in Europe, including Etch. and the Michelin-starred Noma in Copenhagen. Texeira would move on to work as a chef de partie at renowned Ottawa restaurant Atelier under one of Canada’s top chefs, Marc Lepine.
After his time at Atelier, Texeira was back in the spotlight, this time tackling the challenge of Top Chef Canada in season eight, making it to the semi-finals in 2020.
Director of Beverage, Fairmont Royal York, Toronto
Responsible for all wine, beer and cocktail programming at Fairmont Royal York, Rus Yessenov consistently elevates the guest experience. Since joining Fairmont Royal York in 2019, Yessenov has designed the cocktail and beverage menu for REIGN Restaurant & Bar and CLOCKWORK Champagne & Cocktails. In fact, CLOCKWORK was voted number 23 for Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants, Bars and Chefs under Yessenov’s leadership. He went on to create the cocktail menu for a holiday themed pop-up bar, Thirsty Elf, modified the menu at CLOCKWORK Terrace in response to COVID-19 restrictions and developed a line of at-home beverages. Yessenov is also preparing for the anticipated re-opening of Library Bar. Previously, Yessenov worked at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver as bar manager and daydreamed about the next big move in his career.“
“Lucky for us, he was able to join the team at a pivotal time when the hotel was opening two brand new food-and-beverage concepts,” says Anna Chartres, regional director of Talent & Culture, Fairmont Royal York. “Rus immediately hit the ground running, and has taken full ownership of the entire beverage program at the hotel, taking it to new heights.”
Regional Director of Operations – Earls Restaurant Burnaby, B.C.
Mohsen Dastpak entered the hospitality industry as a dishwasher 10 years ago. He’s since operated five Earls Kitchen + Bar restaurants in a variety of markets and sales volumes, and has produced best-in-class results at every location. What began as a passion for food, drink and creating engaging experiences has evolved into a passion for developing industry leaders and building engaged teams. At Earls, he’s increased the sales of his region more than 10 per cent before and during the most recent pandemic and has re-created store-opening manuals, pay structure, development programs and testing processes. Additionally, Daskpak has been involved in the opening of six restaurants in North America and served as the director of Operations at his most recent locations.
Restaurant GM – Fairmont Chateau Whistler, Mallard Lounge Pemberton, B.C.
Joel Kaastra learned to cook during an apprenticeship at the Black Dog Village Pub & Bistro in Ontario. After graduating from George Brown College in 2013, he went on to work at a number of kitchens throughout B.C. before taking on his current role as the restaurant GM at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s Mallard Lounge. Kaastra joined the hotel in 2018, set on gaining valuable insights and exposure to front-of-the-house operations. He’s earned him the Leader of the Month award twice, as well as the most-coveted award at the hotel in 2020 — Leader of the Year.
Director, Sustainable development, Diversity and Inclusion – Accor North and Central America Toronto, Ont.
Marina Elsener has worked around the world and continues to grow the Accor brand in North and Central America. After graduating from The Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management in 2014, she began her career at the St. Regis Aspen Resort as a trainee before working her way up to Food & Beverage supervisor.
After that she moved to Canada’s west coast, working in the front office of the Fairmont Express. “I had the pleasure of working with her at the hotel as we launched the new AccorALL loyalty program to the region. She was instrumental in developing training and refining processes for the betterment of the guest and the operation and demonstrated leadership potential with her sound approaches and advice,” says Andrea Torrance, senior vice-president, Guest Experience at Accor North & Central America.
Elsener has since been promoted to director, Sustainable Development, Diversity and Inclusion – North and Central America where she leads the company’s Watch program, a training program designed to educate the company’s employees on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and is currently spearheading a movement to eliminate single-use plastics across the hotels in her region.
General Manager, Descendants Beer & Beverage Co., Kitchener, Ont.
Admired for her exceptional customer service, strategic decision making and innovative leadership, Bonnie Nethery is recognized as a natural mentor both inside and outside of the workplace. After graduating from the School of Hospitality at the University of Guelph, Nethery began working at Descendants Beer & Beverage Co. in the front of house and moved quickly up to a community-manager position and then GM. She’s taken advantage of professional-development and training opportunities — Nethery completed Level 3 Prud’homme Beer Certification, LGBTQ+ inclusiveness training and bystander harassment training.
“She has a strong foundation and has already demonstrated her leadership and ability in the workforce, it’s also critical to recognize her commitment to improvement and development,” says Mike von Massow, associate professor at the University of Guelph and OAC Chair in Food Systems Leadership.”
In June 2021, Nethery moved across the country to join B.C.’s Merridale Cidery & Distillery as Food-and-Beverage manager.
Director of Member Relations, Indigenous Tourism Ontario, Mississauga, Ont.
Jasmine Burji began her career as a Special Programs Intern at the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO), primarily working on marketing and promotion activities for TIAO events, in addition to assisting with management of the association’s awards program. She worked for the Hospitality and Tourism Research Institute at Ryerson University, taking on various roles as a communications manager, research assistant and event planner, and she’s credited for outlining best practices of Sustainable Indigenous Tourism. Additionally, she was accepted for an exchange at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand to complete her Bachelor of Commerce in Hospitality and Tourism Management.
She was awarded with Best Concept for Climate Positive Hotel by the Genio Worldwide Innovation Summit and received the MTCC Walter Oster Award from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in recognition of her significant contributions to the growth of tourism in Canada, while demonstrating impeccable leadership, vision, values, and business strategy.
Burji is now director of Member Relations for Indigenous Tourism Ontario, improving the socio-economic conditions of local Indigenous communities while providing a platform for cultural expression through tourism.
Executive Chef, The Bruce Hotel, Stratford Mitchell, Ont.
Even before finishing high-school, Brandon Clemens began his career in the foodservice industry, working as chef de partie at the Elmhurst Inn & Spa. The young chef moved on to work at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise as senior chef de partie before working for Michelin-starred restaurants, including The Savoy in the U.K..
“I’m impressed by Brandon’s natural leadership abilities and the relationships he had fostered as an ambassador to the Savoy brand,” says Bryn McArthur, executive sous chef, Fairmont Grand Del Mar.
Clemons helped secure the Savoy three-straight Best Seafood Restaurant in London Bookatable Diner Awards by Michelin from before joining The Bruce Hotel, a 4 Diamond Hotel & Restaurant in Stratford, London, where he garnered the Best Young Chef award at the British Restaurant Awards.
Program Manager, Guest Experience, Sonder, Toronto
Nicole Chan has more than eight years of leadership experience in hospitality, specifically room operations, food and beverage, human resources, capital planning and project management. She brings an acute awareness of the industry, combined with a passion to challenge the status quo, to her role at Sonder, where she’s responsible for implementing guest-experience programs, such as signage, in-unit collateral, amenities, app content, pilot projects and safety and security enhancement, across more than 5,000 listings in 36 markets around the world. Currently, Chan is pursuing a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.
Front-Office Manager, Delta Hotels by Marriott – Vancouver Downtown Suites, Vancouver
As a member of the Delta Vancouver Downtown Suites team since 2018, Amber Douel has become proficient in managing associates and building positive guest relations. While completing her Bachelor of Commerce in Hospitality Management at the University of Guelph, Douel was the president of the Hotel Association of Canada Guelph Student Chapter and director of Finance for the Hospitality, Food and Tourism Management Student Association. She was also selected to be one of two students to represent the University of Guelph at the Young Hoteliers Summit in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2018. Since the onset of COVID-19, she has been a key figure in navigating its impacts, identifying key priorities and facilitating a successful recovery for unique guest experiences.
Sous-Chef, Canoe Restaurant, Toronto
Eric Valente is a highly respected chef in Canoe’s kitchen. He is trustworthy, detail oriented, patient and compassionate. Valente has explored culinary opportunities abroad in the U.K. and Australia to boost his career, allowing him to take the flavours and culinary traditions of one country and enrich another. He continues to impress Canoe’s chef de cuisine and the rest of the team and carries himself with professional integrity.
“What really makes Eric a leader is his capacity for self-reflection. This is a key attribute for anyone looking to get to the top of any industry, especially the restaurant industry,” says John Horne, district executive chef at Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality. “With this attitude, Eric is able to focus on improving on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, and I have no doubt he will continue to strive for improvement as he works his way up the ladder. His ambition and curiosity will always guide him in his life, but his self-reflection sets him apart from the rest.”
Assistant General Manager, Keg Steakhouse and Bar, Grand Prairie, Alta.
Dedicating her life to the foodservice industry, Drew Savich is a career-driven individual who leads by example and thirsts to learn more. At the age of 14, Savich began her career at the Keg as a busser, quickly advancing and gaining work experience in every department, eventually landing her in her current role as the assistant general manager. She had taken the initiative to expand her skills when she had moved away from her long-term serving position to explore career advancement opportunities within the company.
Savich has developed and trained eight managers in various roles and has assisted in the opening of multiple locations, inspiring hundreds of staff through her strong leadership and mentorship skills. In 2019, she was awarded Best Franchise Kitchen in Alberta and Saskatchewan during her time as Culinary Operations Manager. Additionally, Savich is an advocate for the Keg Spirit Foundation, taking responsibility for the innovation and implementation of events that directly support the development of youth.
“Having Drew as a teammate is a dream; she is the glue to our restaurant. She is extremely knowledgeable and her thirst to learn more exudes around the restaurant,” says Jonathan Farr, general manager, Grand Prairie Keg Steakhouse and Bar.
“She represents the future of The Keg,” adds Krista Krziyzek, vice-president, Keg Restaurants Ltd.
Assistant Food & Beverage Manager, Sheraton Gateway Hotel, Toronto
Sneha Nayak has worked in some of the finest hotels around the world, including the Ritz-Carlton Kyoto and the JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai before settling in at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel in Toronto.
Nayak’s vast experience in working across the globe allowed her to quickly impress her colleagues upon her move to Canada and gave her a seamless transition into the Food and Beverage section of the hotel.
“She is always on time, professional, dedicated to the doing her job to the best of her abilities and most importantly a team player,” says Syreeta Dhana, Food & Beverage Operations manager, Sheraton Gateway Hotel.