Dining & Wine

International Women’s Day Profile: Sylvia Potvin Of Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts

March 5, 2024

To celebrate this International Women’s Day (and really, shouldn’t that simply be everyday?!), we’re profiling some incredible women in the lifestyle space. Meet Sylvia Potvin, president and owner of Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. —Noa Nichol

Hello! Tell us a bit about yourself to start.

Hello! I’m a child of hardworking immigrants from Hong Kong who were fortunate enough to thrive in their newfound country, Canada. I grew up in a family in which food, growing it, gathering it and preparing it, was approached with a sense of joy and passion. I owe my love of food to my grandmother, who was one of the most talented chefs I ever met. At our house, eating was our family’s favorite sport. After graduating from UBC, I worked in advertising and marketing here Vancouver and over in Hong Kong. What I loved and still love about my work are the opportunities to engage our students and the public in storytelling and sharing my love for the hospitality industry.

What’s a day in the life like for you?

I like to wake up early and go for a run most mornings to clear my mind before heading into school. My role is really to be cheerleader for our staff and students. Most mornings, I meet with our team to review upcoming projects and opportunities. I spend time tasting students’ creations in the kitchens and providing them with feedback. I work with our chef-instructors to design student pop-up events for the public and I work with my events team to develop new menu ideas for our private events space. My favorite responsibilities are marketing and PR related. I work on generating creative content with our marketing team and developing fun cooking programs for the public. I believe everyone should know how to cook. It’s a valuable life skill. One of the best parts of my job is supporting our students at the many community events our school participates such the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival’s PICA Kitchen party.

How does your company empower women?

Our school offers a very boutique, intimate learning experience for our students. We are a small but mighty and supportive team. Women make up almost fifty percent of our staff and are well represented on our executive team as well as in our student body. As a school and a company, we support various non-profit community groups whose role is to raise the profile of women in our industry. By providing scholarships for Les Dames d’Escoffier BC and supporting initiatives by WORTH (Women of Recreation, Tourism, and Hospitality) Association, we hope to make further inroads and really increase the opportunities available to women in our industry.

What are the current challenges for women in your industry? How do you overcome them?

The professional kitchen is still very much a male dominated space. However, changes are happening. With so many women now interested in the culinary and baking and pastry arts at a professional level there are more and more female role models and mentors available help steer the careers of young female chefs coming up in our industry. As well, careers in the food industry are no longer limited to only the professional kitchen, we had many of past alumni become food entrepreneurs, journalists, food stylists and content creators. A culinary education is just the first step toward building a foundation in many exciting food careers. Our role as educators is provide as many opportunities as possible to expose and to promote women to the many food and wine events taking place here in our communities and across the country.

How do you create a supportive environment for yourself and your team?

I think it’s important to be empathetic and to listen. We can all learn so much from taking a moment to really listen to our staff and colleagues. We might not always agree but the road to understanding begins with listening.

Who has been your greatest influence/mentor in your life?

My grandmother. She taught me to be accepting, to be kind and to be creative in everything I do. Career wise, I have learned so much from so many people. Our marketing team is women driven and I’m very fortunate to have learned so much about great visual design from my creative director. My good friend Lorraine Cunningham from Translink is a solid sounding board and I really respect her business acumen. I’ve also been fortunate to have met a number of industry professionals who become good friends as well:  Jenice Yu of Fresh Ideas Starts Here, who very kindly introduced me to so many industry colleagues when I first came to the school; Rae Kung of Chinese Restaurant Awards, whom I adore working with to give our students the opportunity to learn about authentic Chinese and modern Chinese style cuisine; and of course, I like to give a shout out to Chef Alex Chen of BLVD who always gives me great advice about food and life.

What are you most proud of doing/accomplishing?

There are so many proud moments for me at PICAchef that it’s hard to choose just one. I’m very proud that PICAchef has graduated over 4500 alumni (and counting), who are well represented in some of the top restaurants and food businesses in Vancouver, in Canada and across the globe. This would not be possible without our amazing teaching faculty who are supported by our strong admin team. Our school was thrilled when Michelin chose our stunning, waterfront private events venue on Granville Island to launch the arrival of the Vancouver’s Michelin guide in 2022. Our alumna, Chloe Siy, who is the Team Captain of the Junior Culinary Team Canada, and her team winning gold and silver was another wonderful moment for the everyone here at the school. And finally, I’m so very proud of our students and staff who strive every day to make Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts Vancouver’s best culinary school.

After a long day, what’s your favourite thing to make/eat?

When I’m tired after a long day at school and need a quick snack before making dinner with my husband, I pop a package of Konscious (award winning local Vancouver start-up brand) plant-based Cali Roll into the microwave. It’s easy, healthy and tasty. The best part is that it’s ready from the freezer to yummy in just minutes!


  1. Judy Lam Maxwell

    March 7th, 2024 at 9:35 am

    This is a wonderful, positive, and inspirational article, Sylvia. Congratulations on your accomplishments and this feature!

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