Christie Peters just wanted to learn how to butcher a pig.
She modelled for a few years in Toronto after high school, then decided to become a chef. She went to Vancouver to learn in some of the city’s best restaurants. But she didn’t want to be stuck making salads or desserts.
In an industry notorious for fixed gender roles, Peters struggled to get
on the meat stations. It was hard to convince the men in the kitchen to teach her the art of butchering. But eventually, she did.
After a decade learning from the best in the world – she’s worked in restaurants from Amsterdam to San Francisco – she came home four years ago to open The Hollows with her husband Kyle Michael in Riversdale. They recently opened Primal in the neighbourhood, too.
Peters is one of just a few female head chefs and restaurateurs in Saskatchewan. Her restaurants are popular because the food is like nothing else in the province. Multi-component and vegetable-filled dishes can feature obscure foraged plants with varying cuts of meats (both restaurants incorporate whole animal butchery). Sustainability is foremost for Peters, who makes her own soap for the restaurants and tans hides from the animals they butcher.
The Hollows opened before the boom in Riversdale. Peters and Michael heard a lot of skepticism about opening a business in what was considered a rougher neighbourhood. “We were in love with the area and wanted to make it happen,” he says.
Thanks to like-minded young entrepreneurs, Riversdale has become an eclectic, thriving community of independent businesses.
LEARNING FROM THE BEST
Peters always wanted to return to Saskatoon, repeatedly describing it as the “land of opportunity” to friends in Vancouver and abroad.
Watching the Food Network fueled her chef aspirations. She particularly liked New Classics with Rob Feenie, so she moved to Vancouver to find him.
“At that point, I thought the way that you learned things wasn’t by going to school. It was by finding someone who was doing that thing and learning under him,” says Peters.
The top restaurant in Vancouver was Lumière, Rob Feenie’s renowned fine dining spot. She went to apply but walked through the wrong doorway – Feenie’s, a more casual joint next door.
Her tryout shift was a success and she stayed (although they never did teach her how to butcher an animal).
“I’m super good at cooking vegetables because I’ve cooked them for years. I used to refuse pastry – just because I’m a girl, I’m not doing that,” she says, a sly grin lighting up her strikingly beautiful face.
She met Michael there, along with close friend Scott Dicks, who moved to Saskatoon in September to become the head chef at The Hollows.
She left Feenie’s because a new chef didn’t like women in the kitchen. At her next job, she told the head chef she wouldn’t work there unless she could learn butchering skills.
“I would do anything. I ended up lifting the pig onto the table myself and straining (huge) stocks. If a man can do it, I can do it and I wanted to show (them) that that’s what’s happening.”
But it was still frustrating. [CONTINUE READING]