Quell, a culinary talent agency unlike any other, is laser-focused on elevating Canadian BIPOC culinary talent and creating new, co-beneficial foodservice partnerships.
Trevor Lui, multi-tasking, high-energy event producer, restauranteur, and cookbook author, has created a life and career in hospitality. He sees an industry that’s welcoming, yet punishing, and full of camaraderie and life. But as a 20-year veteran, he’s also seen inequity, missed opportunities and ways to improve the system without breaking it. Now, he’s taking his energy and focusing on making changes from the boardroom to the dining room to make space now and in the future for BIPOC culinary leaders.
In September, together with his sister Stephanie Lui-Valentim, Lui launched Quell, an alternative boutique agency and consultancy focused on increasing diversity across the food and drink industry. It’s an idea that he’s has had for the last couple of years.
“I approached Stephanie to work with me because I know she’s driven, focused and a good balance to my creative side…I also know that the respect between us is mutual, and if there was anyone who could bring this to life with me, it was her.”
“We are representing exceptional leaders in the F&D industry who all have a higher purpose and drive to educate and advocate for important societal issues like race, female empowerment, food security, climate, and much more. We are inspired by each of them every day and feel fortunate to have created a community where we can amplify their voices, expertise, and experiences.” says Lui-Valentim.
The easy thing to say about Quell is that it’s a BIPOC culinary talent agency linking brands with its impressive talent roster. From beverage specialists like Evelyn Chick and Christina Veira, chefs like Tawfik Shehata, La-toya Fagon and most recently acclaimed Chef Joseph Shawana, Quell approaches opportunities from the talent’s point-of-view, ensuring equal opportunity with brands based on merit and ability.
But Quell’s value also lies in using the experience that the Quell team brings to the table and in marrying the not-so-obvious brands with the surprising and the unexpected to bring something valuable, thoughtful, and successful to life.
The more complex part of Quell’s offering is helping those in the hospitality industry dive deeper into the systemic issues that have created inequities and barriers to opportunities. Research shows that companies with more diverse workforces perform better financially, yet the hospitality industry seems to lag behind the insight.
“There are challenges restaurants and brands face regarding equity because they are embedded in the foundation of the system. You need to have reflective moments to ask hard questions about yourself and your business. It’s tough. We help you have those difficult conversations and make sure your business is set-up as a safe and successful environment for everyone,” says Lui. That’s not just on the floor or in the kitchen, but where business decisions are made in the boardroom. “We’re not saying give up a seat, we’re asking you to add one. To help make real change. Our goal at Quell is to transform the face of hospitality in every aspect, to be more reflective of what our community and population looks like. The old system doesn’t work anymore.”
It’s this system that Lui is helping to change by investing in a new generation of culinary leaders with Quell’s bursary and mentorship program. This year, in partnership with Thistletown Collegiate Institute’s culinary arts program, Quell offers interested and talented students a path to post-secondary education in hospitality by providing one-on-one mentoring time with talent on Quell’s roster, opportunities for additional training, and financial support. “The path in our industry isn’t often clear, so by providing a way for youth to ask questions and to see a future in culinary may inspire some to post-secondary education, creating a pipeline of future leaders,” says Lui.
You need to have reflective moments to ask hard questions about yourself and your business. It’s tough.
– Trevor Lui
Quell Advisory Board
Quell leans on exceptional talent and expertise from across all industries to help guide decisions and strategy.
Sean Beckingham, President & Partner, Branding and Buzzing
Astrid Brummer, Category Manager, LCBO
Tasha Chin, Founder, SparkThat Inc.
Tracy Moore, Television Host, Entrepreneur
Leslie Ng, Partner, Lecours Wolfson
Brione Wishart, Founder, Artlee Agency
Evelyn Chick, Certified Beverage and Hospitality Expert
La-toya Fagon, Chef, Celebrity Caterer
Elia Herrara, Executive Chef, Owner
Ryan Hinkson, Food Culturalist
Joshna Maharaj, Chef, Food Activist Bashir Munye, Chef, Food Advocate, Educator
Joseph Shawana, Chef, Educator
Tawfik Shehata, Chef, Educator
Brigitte Truong, Lifestyle and Entertainment Specialist, Multimedia Host and Producer
Christina Veira, Certified Beverage and Hospitality Expert
While the timing of Quell seems providential, it’s also one that’s in concert with what’s happening in North America. Businesses are looking at how they represent their brand to a new and inspired generation of consumers. An Adobe survey found that 62 per cent of respondents said that a brand’s diversity—or lack of it—affects the perception of their products of services.
In June 2020, Restaurants Canada stated their commitment to voicing the importance of an inclusive and diverse workplace in kitchens and foodservice businesses.
Why aren’t businesses readily adapting to a new diverse and equitable framework? According to Lui, it’s about risk. “A lot of people are scared, especially now, of the risk associated with potentially losing part of our established core business by building a new framework. What we help them understand is that the potential of what you’re building exceeds what you’ll lose.” While the work is daunting, it doesn’t phase Lui. “With Quell we’re making a commitment to our talent and to the industry and to help leave a legacy of change.”
For more information visit quellnow.com
Join us at this year’s RC Show 2021 ONLIVE LIVE, for the ‘Inclusive Kitchen: Tackling Systemic Racism’ panel which will feature speakers:
Suzanne Barr, Chef, Social Advocate, Author, Suzanne Barr Food
Eden Hagos, Founder, BLACK FOODIE
Philman George, Corporate Chef, High Liner Foods
Roger Mooking, Chef & Host on Food Network & Cooking Channel
Joseph Shawana, Chair of Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations & Professor at Centennial College
For more information and to register for the RC Show 2021, visit rcshow.com.