2015 Hero: Jen Agg
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2015 Hero: Jen Agg

Nominated for: calling out the restaurant industry on its sexism.

Torontoist is reflecting on 2015 by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until midnight on January 7. At noon on January 8, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

Jen Agg by Evan Munday

Despite the title of her forthcoming book, I Hear She’s a Real Bitch, Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg is quite affable.

Agg opened her first Toronto restaurant, The Black Hoof in 2008, on what used to be an uninspiring stretch of Dundas Street West; it’s now a destination spot. She made offal cuts palatable to “non-ethnic” people. Her Cocktail Bar elevated the level of Toronto libations and Rhum Corner, the brain child of Agg and her life partner, artist Roland Jean, brings Haitian delights to Toronto.

While her trio of Dundas West hot-spots keep her busy, Agg still finds the time to spearhead projects close to her heart. As somewhat of an anomaly in a male-dominated industry, this past summer she attempted to combat its ingrained misogyny.

Following a Toronto Star article that revealed allegations of sexual harassment at Weslodge restaurant, Agg quickly put wheels in motion to organize a conference on the subject entitled Kitchen Bitches.

Aiming to “smash patriarchy one plate at a time,” what might have otherwise taken a team of 12 to organize in months, Agg did in three days.

In three days, and a train ride from Montreal to Toronto, Agg gathered a panel of working chefs and international food writers to discuss the toxic environment that permeates many kitchens. The swiftness with which the conference came together speaks to both her influence in the community and her tenacity to get things done.

(Disclosure: I was asked to speak at the conference but was away at the time.)

It’s not easy to air the dirty laundry of an industry that you are a part of. But this is not the first time that Agg has made herself open to criticism and it certainly won’t be the last; she seems to find strength in it.

A trailblazer in her work and in her life, Jen Agg gets it. What frustrates her is that she wishes everyone else would too. For her refusal to accept that pervasive sexism isn’t just something to ignore and for using her clout to ensure it’s not just something muttered about after closing, Jen Agg is a hero for 2015.