Women’s History Month: In Conversation With Ambica Jain

To conclude our Women’s Month celebration, we had the pleasure of chatting with Ambica Jain, a prominent figure in Toronto’s culinary scene and force behind Adrak Yorkville. Here, Jain shares insights into her journey in the restaurant industry, the influential figures who have supported her success, and the significance of honouring women throughout the year.

What sparked your interest in the culinary industry, and how does your deep appreciation for food influence the ethos of your restaurants?

“My curiosity and interest for the culinary industry was sparked by my travels around the world, which revealed a missing piece in Toronto’s dining scene: a high-end space dedicated to South Asian cuisine. My upbringing in a business family had me set for entrepreneurship, but the world of hospitality and gastronomy was new to me. But once I delved in, there was no looking back. I was intrigued by the diversity and richness of the South Asian subcontinent and food and beverage culture. Our restaurants echo this diversity, embracing the regional variations, multitude of spices, and plethora of stories behind each dish and beverage. We strive to present an authentic Indian dining experience while catering to the dynamic palate of our city – a true reflection of my deep appreciation for our food’s heritage.”

With Adrak Yorkville gaining recognition earning a coveted spot in the Toronto Michelin Guide, how do you balance authenticity while catering to diverse audiences? What key lessons have fueled your success along the way?

“Recognition, like earning a spot in the Toronto Michelin Guide, brings both pride and responsibility. In a world where social media often dictates trends, it’s tempting to focus solely on aesthetics. But while we embrace theatrics and storytelling, we never compromise on authenticity. We are dedicated to using genuine ingredients and traditional recipes to respect the integrity of South Asian flavours and craft them into experiences that appeal to a global audience — a practice I believe is central to our success. We’ve learned that true authenticity is what keeps our guests returning. We choose not to dilute our flavours but instead celebrate them, offering an experience that’s both genuine and inclusive. This approach has resonated well with our guests, allowing us to sustain our success while honouring our roots.”

What specific experiences in your career or personal life have made you feel the most empowered?

“We all have those milestones that feel significant because they’re recognized by the public eye – awards, accolades, glowing reviews. They’re important, but sometimes the most empowering experiences are quieter, more personal. For example, there was a time when I was feeling particularly low and out of the blue, a staff member called me to tell me that my hard work was an inspiration. This wasn’t just a boost to my mood — it was a profound reminder of the impact I have on those around me. Then there was another occasion, equally unexpected, when a team member posted about seeing me as a leader to look up to. It’s these moments of unsolicited affirmation that hit differently. They make me realize that leadership is not just about running a business successfully; it’s about the day-to-day interactions, the environment you create for your team, and the example you set. It’s about the responsibility that comes with being a role model and the satisfaction of knowing that you’re positively influencing others’ lives. These personal acknowledgments have made me feel incredibly empowered and have reinforced my commitment to my business and those around me.”

Have you been influenced by any significant female figures in your life?

“The significant female figures in my life have been pillars of strength and inspiration. Foremost among them is my mother, my business partner, who has been my unwavering support. Her guidance, teachings, and support — personally and professionally — are immeasurable for me. Also inspirational is my sister-in-law. Observing her journey through the tough years of medical school to excelling in her career while raising two assertive young girls has been truly motivating. Through my family, I’ve learned the value of determination and the importance of being assertive in expressing my own opinions.

Beyond my family, I draw inspiration from the resilient women around me, many of whom are integral to our business and the wider industry. Their stories of leaving behind the comfort and familiarity of their homes and countries to build a life full of aspirations in an unknown world, often at a very young age, are a testament to courage and determination. These women, like my nanny who left the Philippines to support her family and has been a part of my life since I was seven, exemplify true strength and courage. Their bravery and drive motivate me to persevere through the longest days and the toughest challenges. It’s these women who define what a powerful woman is to me, and they are a continuous source of inspiration.”

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

“While we should practice this throughout the year, IWD stands as a reminder to advocate for the rights of women and girls across the globe and amplify their voices, while celebrating the extraordinary contributions of women in all walks of life. It’s a reminder to honour these achievements, for instance in the hospitality industry, where women’s efforts are central yet often undervalued, and to acknowledge the progress made towards equality, while also reflecting that work still needs to be done. It’s a day where we should strive for a world where every woman and girl can live to her full potential.”

 Photo courtesy of Ryan Emberley.