Ashley Stenabaugh, 21, is the youngest chef to work at Parliamentary Restaurant on the Hill in Ottawa.

The event that would set the wheels of Ashley Stenabaugh’s culinary career into motion started off as a bit of a dare.

“My brother kind of did this reverse psychology thing on me when I was little,” she recalled. “He started off working in kitchens as a dishwasher, and he’d come home and talk about how fun it was, and I’d be like, `Oh, I want to do that too.’ He kept saying, `Oh, you can’t do that.’ So to show him up I became a dishwasher and that’s kind of how I started. It turned out (cooking) was something I was good at and I really enjoyed.”

Working for Randy Spencer, co-owner of Spencer’s Tall Trees in her hometown of Huntsville, Ont., she started as a dishwasher and moved up the line to garde manger, a job that typically involves preparing cold foods, including appetizers and desserts.

The experience helped inspire her towards her future career as she learned valuable techniques.

Working in kitchens since she was 13, Stenabaugh ascended the ranks to award-winning student chef before landing her current job in one of Canada’s most historic dining establishments — the Parliamentary Restaurant. At 21, Stenabaugh is a junior chef, the youngest on the Hill.

Senators, MPs, dignitaries and parliamentary press gallery members are among a select few who dine in the famed eatery on the sixth floor of Centre Block.

While attending the two-year culinary management program at Toronto’s Humber College, Stenabaugh entered her first-ever culinary competition, the Knorr/

CCFCC (Canadian Culinary Federation) provincial junior culinary challenge, in 2006.

Her sumptuous menu offerings which included scallop ceviche, rosemary and mustard roasted pork tenderloin and banana brown sugar ice cream earned her a silver medal, and caught the eye of Parliament Hill executive chef Judson Simpson, one of the judges of the competition — and her future boss.

Stenabaugh said her competition coach had suggested she apply for a position at the Parliament Buildings. After e-mailing Simpson a phone interview followed, and she was hired in April 2006, the same month she graduated from school. She started work in September at age 20.

Her typical shift runs from 2 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and she and a second chef are responsible for preparing the potatoes and vegetables.

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