As a group of women working towards common goals for STYLE Canada‘s brand and business, we understand the value of peer support in the workplace. So, after our last Supper Club at Soho House, we decided to bring like-minded women in business together and feature them in an ongoing series: #LeadingLadies. Here’s hoping that we’ll see you at our next Supper Club. Keep your eyes peeled on our events page for more details.
Stef Scrivens – Pastry Chef, Businesswoman, and Brain Tumour Survivor
Industries: Food, dining, and tech
SC: What led you to pursue your career?
SS: At the age of 30-years-old, I feel like I’ve already had several careers all uniquely inspired by significant life events. I was enrolled in a pre-med program at the University of Ottawa when I was diagnosed with a stage 2 brain tumour. I was extremely fortunate to have had a successful resection, but I then woke up to an entirely different reality – with a healing brain that was now dominated by creativity. For the first time in my life, I was obsessed with the idea of baking, of all things, which catapulted a decade-long career in the culinary arts.
Almost like a parody of itself, my life then took yet another dramatic turn. I had worked my way to successfully running a Michelin-star pastry program in the UK when I was diagnosed with celiac disease. When life gives you lemons (or an autoimmune disease), they say you should make lemonade. So, I invested in a food technology startup called Transparent Kitchen.
SC: What has your career path looked like?
SS: It’s been a very fun roller coaster. After dropping out of the Science program at the University of Ottawa, I immediately registered at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa for their pastry diploma. Upon graduation, I ended up working with that company in their restaurant, Signatures, where I stayed for five years.
I then went on to experience new restaurants in Ottawa, such as fauna and Bar Laurel. Following that, I travelled abroad and trialled at Michelin starred restaurants in the UK, including The Fat Duck, The Latymer, and Marcus Wareing. Following the job acceptance from Marcus Wareing, I moved to the UK and worked as their head of pastry.
I was then faced with another health situation. From the very long 14-18 hour days, I developed Celiac’s Disease – which is the kiss of death for a pastry chef. With no cure and inability to touch or try the desserts, I moved back to Ottawa and tried to discover a way that I could stay involved in this crazy, beautiful food industry. I reached out to Frazer Nagy, the CEO of Transparent Kitchen, and joined the team. After three months, I knew that what we had was special, and I invested and became a partner of the company in January of 2019.
SC: Can you please give STYLE readers a brief description of what Transparent Kitchen does/is?
SS: Transparent Kitchen is a restaurant discovery platform that has built a community of restaurants around a shared set of values: chef-lead, scratch kitchens that celebrate the culture of dining and understand the importance of having intention behind their sourcing practices. Transparent Kitchen’s content-driven discovery experience empowers the conscious diner to find restaurants and dishes that align with their unique needs. You can not only search to satisfy your cravings, but the discovery platform also supports filtering for diet preferences and allergies. This allows diners to discover experiences that they know will safely align with their values, like pescetarian or vegan, and helps to navigate the complexities of allergies, like celiac disease.
SC: How would you describe your role with Transparent Kitchen?
SS: As Director of Sales and a partner of a technology startup, you wear a lot of hats. Transparent Kitchen has reached an exciting place – our platform is live in Ottawa, Toronto, Minneapolis, and Seattle, and I have been overseeing the on-boarding and success of the accounts across all four cities. I have spearheaded a farm out-reach program and cultivated strategic brand partnerships that are now being activated into exciting culinary events. The nature of being a small start-up means that every day is different and the work is very collaborative.
SC: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
SS: Teamwork. The proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ holds so true in my career. I’ve realized its importance both in a kitchen with a pastry team, and in the tech world with the team at Transparent Kitchen. The importance of everyone’s opinions and minds coming together and collaborating on one thing is very important and very powerful. Opening our minds to other opinions is what makes us learn, and a team.
SC: What obstacles have you overcome to get to where you are today?
SS: For me, health is an obvious factor. It put my life into perspective very quickly, and throughout all of my diagnoses, I know that life can be short. That being said, it is best to spend it on doing something you love and are passionate about. All jobs and careers I’ve had thus far have never felt like work, which is a very great thing to be able to say.
SC: What’s one thing you would’ve done differently?
SS: Likely slept more and not put my body through such stress and exhaustion. It’s very possible this could have been prevented, or at least delayed, my celiac diagnosis. It absolutely would’ve been to treat my body well. That being said, did I still love the long hours? Of course! I loved my job.
SC: What’s your biggest strength?
SS: Organization. I didn’t realize how much of a strength that was for me until leaving the kitchen. Most chefs excel at this, as we function in lists and finishing jobs for a successful service, with a necessary time to finish. To do so, that requires an immense amount of organizing. Out of the kitchen, I now realize how much that strength relates to every job and career, and how rare it actually is.
SC: What’s your biggest challenge/weakness?
SS: This will sound hilarious, but tech. And patience. Yes, I’m now a partner in a tech start-up, but, as a previous chef, I was not on a computer for 95 per cent of my day. Patience comes hand in hand with that, as I recognize I have a large learning curve in front of me with technology. Challenging my old completionist temperament has been a real adjustment. I have been working to acknowledge that this part is a journey, and I have to be patient with myself as I continue to adapt and learn.
SC: How would your friends describe you?
SS: In the words of Andrei Belik, a best friend of mine for the passed 15 years:
“Stef is ambitious in pursuit of her goals. She knows what she wants and she doesn’t allow herself to be influenced by external perceptions or other’s expectations of what life should be. She doesn’t compromise on standards, nor gets easily discouraged when things don’t go according to plan. As a friend, Stef is straight forward and tells it how it is. That’s how you know you can trust her to give you honest advice or opinion. Her life experience, and the challenges she had faced early on, have made her relatable and humble. Her friendship and trust are hard to attain and that’s what makes it worthwhile. When you are Stef’s friend – you know about it.”
And in the words of Sarah Love, a very close friend:
“You’ll struggle to find a friend with a bigger heart. Always there to pick you up when you’re feeling down, but definitely strong enough to give you those truths when you need them most. Watching her passion for all her culinary creations, as well as the success and growth of Transparent Kitchen, draws us all in and inspires us to try to be the best version of ourselves.”
SC: How would your colleagues describe you?
SS: In the words of Allana Graham, Transparent Kitchen’s Brand Manager:
“Stef is diligent, resilient, and resourceful as heck. She doesn’t shy away from tasks that she’s unfamiliar with, rather, she finds a way to get it done. Life has thrown her some curveballs that would challenge the strongest of us. Instead of letting these moments slow her down, she chooses not only to make the most of life, but also to develop a mastery of the things she is passionate about. It has been a joy to work closely with her.”
SC: If you have one goal for Transparent Kitchen and one goal for yourself, what are they?
SS: If I have to choose one goal for Transparent Kitchen, I would borrow from our mission statement – I really hope that our platform can change the way that people see food. With my background as a pastry chef, I know all of the hard work and dedication it takes to bring a dish to life. I hope that our platform can be an engaging tool that will encourage diners to actually learn about the chefs behind their favourite restaurants, and discover the farms and artisans that they choose to support.
If my career trajectory to-date says anything, there’s no sure answer as to where this journey will take me. That said, if I have any goal for myself it would be that I stay true to the values that have led me here: always lead with passion and be committed to learning. Whether it is working in a kitchen or for a small technology startup, you go into every day supported by the love for the work. My goal is that, wherever I land, I can always be confident that in saying I am proud of the work that I do.
SC: What are some personal career and Transparent Kitchen milestones you’re particularly proud of?
SS: It was a very exciting time when I first started with Transparent Kitchen in 2018. I started off when we were still growing in Ottawa and were partnered with just over 35 restaurants. From there, in 2019, myself and our great sales team that we hired, brought it up to 250 restaurants, in three more major cities – Toronto, Minneapolis, and Seattle.
Last year, our restaurant acquisition grew by 5 times. Validating all of this was being accepted into a very competitive accelerator program, Tech Stars Farm to Fork, which we graduated from in October of 2019. Looking back and realizing the 400 per cent growth in the span of a year, with a small, well-equipped sales team, has been a great source of pride for me.
SC: What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
SS: Eat well, drink water, live your fullest and happiest life, and sleep.