Chef’s rise proof of hard work and talent

Published on February 16, 2021

Lasha Gust is the recipient of the 2020 Spirit of NAIT Alumni Award

Lasha Gust grew up surrounded by 3 different generations of female cooks: her mom, her grandma, and her great-grandma, whose perogies were legendary to anyone lucky enough to taste them.  

“I vividly remember her kitchen,” Gust says. “Because that’s where everything happened.” 

Those early role models instilled a love of cooking in Gust (Cooking '14 and Culinary Arts ’15) from a young age. But she quickly started taking things into her own hands. Because her mom worked weekends, it often fell to a teenaged Gust to cook the family’s Sunday dinners. After one such meal, her younger sister wanted a sundae for dessert. They had ice cream in the house, but nothing to put on top. 

Without thinking, Gust whipped up a caramel sauce from scratch – and a few minutes later, her newly sated family members were researching culinary programs to enrol her in. 

 

A rising star 

Lasha Gust in the kitchen at High Dough, a Detroit-style pizza restaurant in Edmonton.Since then, Gust has done nothing but excel. After graduating from NAIT, she has cooked at multiple acclaimed restaurants in Edmonton, including downtown’s Wishbone, where she worked her way up to overseeing the entire kitchen as chef de cuisine.  

For the past year, Gust has dedicated herself to high-end pizza at High Dough, a buzzworthy Detroit-style pizzeria in the Garneau neighbourhood. Along the way, she has cultivated an inclusive kitchen environment while also advocating for female chefs around the city. 

At Wishbone, Gust quickly distinguished herself with her cheerful personality, relentless work ethic, and creative problem solving.  

“She works her butt off,” says Brayden Kozak (Culinary Arts ’02), co-owner of Wishbone. “More often than not, she’s seeing and accomplishing tasks without having to bring them to my attention until they’re already done.” 

Mentor to many 

Wishbone is where Pedro Garcia Guerra first met Gust, when he got a job helping the restaurant get ready for the annual Taste of Edmonton festival in 2018. 

At the time Guerra was a home baker struggling through a business degree, and he fell in love with the atmosphere of the Wishbone kitchen. He was so inspired, in fact, that he decided to abruptly switch career paths.  

“She loves her job. You can just tell.” 

Now Guerra works in the restaurant industry himself, and he’s never looked back. 

“She was very encouraging,” he says of Gust. When Guerra first told her he was considering pursuing cooking as a career, Gust showed up the next day with a pile of old NAIT textbooks for him to borrow. “She loves her job,” he adds. “You can just tell.” 

Cooking like a girl – and proud of it 

Gust is also a strong advocate for her fellow female chefs, who are still significantly underrepresented in kitchens around the city.  

“I am very used to being the only girl in the room,” she says. “I don’t even notice it anymore.”  

To help bring awareness to this disparity, in 2019 Gust organized the Cook Like a Girl event, which paired 12 female chefs and 12 female bartenders for a special sold-out dinner at Wishbone that raised money for WIN House, an organization that helps women in Edmonton who are fleeing domestic violence. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, Gust was forced to use her creativity once again when Kozak and his business partner made the difficult decision to shut down Wishbone.  

At the same time, the partners decided to reimagine their other restaurant, Three Boars, as a deep-dish pizzeria to accommodate the new emphasis on takeout and delivery. The only employee Kozak kept on, from either restaurant, was Gust. 

“I knew that she was more than capable of doing everything that we needed to do—especially not knowing what we needed to do,” Kozak says. “While everything was crumbling around us, it was important for me to have my friend by my side.” 

Proving herself one dough at a time 

Gust had previous experience making pizza, but High Dough still came with a learning curve. For instance, each piece of the restaurant’s dough has to proof in individual pans, and the restaurant only had about a dozen of them when they opened their doors on April 1.  

“I couldn’t imagine doing this without her.” 

Right away, upwards of 40 orders started coming in each night. Once word got out, demand jumped even higher. These days, Gust and her co-workers are responsible for making nearly 100 pizzas every single day. (Luckily, they have more pans now.) 

Once again, Gust has taken to her new position with aplomb. “It’s very difficult to find cooks like her—or people like her,” says Kozak.  

At this point, he considers her an unofficial partner at High Dough.  

“I couldn’t imagine doing this without her.” 

Spirit of NAIT Alumni Award

Lasha Gust received the Spirit of NAIT Alumni Award for her accomplishments in the culinary arts profession and mentorship of the next generation of chefs. It is awarded to alumni who have made exceptional advances or achievements in their career within 12 years of graduation.