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Carley Schelck | Urban Element | Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

T: 613.722.0885


"Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you who you are." (18th century French essayist, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin)

You opened Urban Element 13 years ago in an old Ottawa firehall as an open concept space for kitchen parties, cooking classes and team-building. Now, you're known for visionary leadership around food. What happened?
[Laughs] This is a highly fierce industry and it can be very tumultuous. We've had our share of rocky times and for us to come out the other end, 13 years later, is quite the accomplishment. The amazing thing is that we are just getting going. We're putting into action tested methods and we know exactly who we are and what we can deliver — there is confidence in that - and that helps us connect deeply with the clients we serve.

Is that your greatest accomplishment?
Absolutely. Another great accomplishment recently was launching a social enterprise venture called Cultivating Cooks. It is a food literacy program. We help connect students to the food cycle, to build their knowledge around growing food and cooking with it.

You've always been very goal-focused, right?
You know it! Planning five years out … let's see … I've launched Cultivating Cooks, but I would love to see our workshops implemented in all Ottawa school boards. There are so many fantastic learning outcomes when kids dig in the dirt, grow a vegetable from a seed, then harvest and cook it. We see strong connections between food and kids making healthy choices.

Your husband is your business partner. How has that impacted your role in what is largely a male-dominated industry?
Honestly, I have never thought much about my male competitors. My husband and I have equal ownership, operationally and in management, so I don't relate to gender competition. But for a woman in my industry, it's about balance between raising a family and running a business with the erratic hours. Even so, most of my female peers are redefining what it means to be a woman in this business and doing it on their own terms.

Last question. In your mind, what defines a business?
People make a business. While I am the visionary, this business is the collective of exceptional professionals who form our team and execute on that vision every day. It has been a wonderful journey thus far and it's exciting to think of what the future holds for Urban Element.

Photographer: Lindsey Gibeau