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Paddy’s kitchen boss defies stereotype

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Sarnia’s Lynne Cotton has never been able to figure out why more women don’t become professional chefs.

“Male or female, if you love doing your job then it shouldn’t matter,” says the 46-year-old head chef at Paddy Flaherty’s Irish Pub. “Women are certainly just as capable in the kitchen as men. Obviously, it’s women who do the most cooking at home, isn’t it?”

Yet, when she graduated from Humber College’s culinary apprenticeship program in the 1980s there were just three women and 15 men.

And most of the resumes she receives for kitchen staff come from men, said Cotton.

“I guess it’s considered hard work and long hours, but that wouldn’t make women not want the job,” she mused.  “It can also be very stressful.

“I suppose if you have children, you’d have to be a really good multi-tasker. But that’s with any job.”

Cotton was drawn to Sarnia in 2001 from the Toronto area because of its small town appeal and relatively cheap real estate.

She arrived with a chef’s Red Seal and several years’ experience working for high-end restaurants.

“But between the fine dining places, I always went back to work in pubs whenever I could because I always loved the atmosphere,” she said.

When a job came up at Paddy’s on Sarnia’s waterfront, it fit the bill perfectly.

“I walked in here and it felt like home,” she said.

Two years later, Cotton became Paddy’s head chef and in charge of a kitchen that serves 300 meals or more daily.

Paddy Flaherty’s is part of a chain with a set menu, but most of the food is made in-house from scratch including the pastry and sauces for specialty pies.

“I’m quality control,” Cotton said. “I cook all the batches and make sure everything is consistent.”

As head chef, her day starts at 7 a.m. when she arrives to start the prep work.  She generally leaves around 3 p.m. and her staff of 12 or so kitchen staff take over.

“When I started out, I always wondered why people wanted to be the head chef,” she said. “ All they seemed to do was paperwork and I wanted to cook.

“But now, as I get older, I realize you never sit down when you cook and the only time I get to take a break is when I’m doing my paperwork. Paperwork is okay!”

Paddy Flaherty’s Irish Pub is at 130 Seaway Rd.

– Cathy Dobson 

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