Born in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Antoinette GreenOliph came to Ontario at 13 years of age. She recalls that her family was the only black family in the neighbourhood and recollects the awkward questions and excluded feelings of growing up different.

She fell in love with food at a young age.

“I was the kinda kid that read recipe books under a mango tree, out of the hot sun. I wasn’t born for the tropics,” said GreenOliph. “Like those born in the wrong body, I was raised in the wrong place.”

Her mother and grandmother were cooks and heavily influenced her love of food, and it was this love and circumstance that allowed her to explore it. Her mother, Ruby, is a big influence … GreenOliph was raised in a positive environment by a strong single mom.

“I came out gay at forty years old. I had pretended to be something [I wasn’t].

“You’re black or you’re gay; you can’t be both. You get to a stage where you accept who you are, and it would be great to do when you’re younger, instead of wasting time. But sometimes you have to get there when you can.”

It was this realization and acceptance of who she was that had her quit a great corporate job and move to Manitoba for a girl. “It was an incredible transition,” she recollects. “I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent myself.”

She opened her first restaurant in 2002 and she knew absolutely nothing about the business and what it meant to put food out for a large number of people. The steep learning curve helped grow her skills, and her hard work and unique style paid off with recognition in Anne Hardy’s Where to Eat in Canada food guide (in which GreenOliph is still recognized 16 years later, in the most recent edition).

The recognition made it as far as Dawson City, when the Aurora Inn wanted to hire her as their head chef. After four and a half years of being asked, she moved to Dawson City in 2006. “I’d always wanted to go to the North. I was excited because I think I had romanticized it,” said GreenOliph. “I was really nervous, though, about being black and gay. I honestly thought they lived in igloos up here [we both laugh at how we had shared the same ridiculous stereotypes before we moved here]. But it [life in Dawson] was the most comfortable I’ve ever been about me and everything about me.”

She worked one season at the Aurora Inn and bought a house and opened her own restaurant. But it’s hard to maintain a restaurant, in winter, in seasonal Dawson City, so she moved to Whitehorse in 2008. Thus began her 10-year journey in the community.

“When I left Toronto, I thought there was no better city in Canada to be in,” GreenOliph said. “The growth and structural things have changed [in Whitehorse], but the diversity of the population has changed dramatically. It’s amazing how diverse it is here; it’s so Canada … I still import some things because of the way I cook, but much more products are available in supermarkets that weren’t years ago.”

As Whitehorse continues to grow and evolve, GreenOliph still holds true to her cooking style, providing an eclectic mix of Caribbean-infused food, even while representing international flavours such as Thai, Japanese and German.

Antoinette’s has had various locations in Whitehorse until their current location on 4th Avenue, where they moved to in 2010 (in their eighth year), and her success continues with busy daily service. But it hasn’t always been easy in Whitehorse. GreenOliph pointed to the metal artwork in the windows and said, “See these bars on the windows … [she pauses] sorry, I’ll probably cry telling this. I had thirteen or fourteen break-ins in two years when we first opened.” One day, friends told her they were going to do a fundraiser for her to secure her windows. They raised more than enough and, instead of putting solid bars on the windows (like a jail), with the help of Paul Baker, a local welding artist, she now has beautiful and secure windows.

“I’m a very communal person and give a lot to my community. I donate and volunteer as much as I can,” said GreenOliph. “I love this community and they love me back. It’s home.”

People in Whitehorse love events, so Antoinette’s restaurant decided to thank Whitehorse by providing various events to celebrate her decade in the community she loves and calls home.

She’s held a free community barbecue where guests could “pay what it’s worth,” which was also a fundraiser for the food bank; and a Tobagonian “boil up;” and now upcoming events, such as Oktoberfest on September 29; and the final event, a 10-course meal on October 13, to celebrate her 10 years.

“You have to roll with the punches and stay strong; this business isn’t for the faint of heart,” said GreenOliph. “But even after everything, it’s worth it to see the smiles on people’s faces when the food is good.”

For more details, visit www.antoinettesrestaurant.com; or visit them at 4121 4th Avenue.