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On this International Women’s Day I am enthusiastic about supporting this years theme of “Balance for Better”. Specifically, I want to point to the numerous accomplishments of women chefs who are making a difference in the restaurant business. It seems senseless to categorize chefs as male or female, in fact that distinction helps to perpetuate issues of inequality in pay, respect, and recognition. So for the balance of this article I will simply point to chef’s – many of whom happen to be women. If you have the skills, the passion, the commitment, responsibilities, and the work ethic necessary to hold the position then you are a chef.

Thinking back – many of us would absolutely credit our desire to cook for a living to our experiences with our mothers and grandmothers who joyfully cooked over the family stove. So why should we ever find that women working in professional kitchens is unusual. Across the country more and more professional kitchens are operated under the direction of highly competent and talented women.

So in celebration and recognition that is sorely lacking – I wanted to point to just a few of the thousands of great women professional cooks and chefs who are on equal ground with their male counterparts and who have, and continue to make, a tremendous difference in the restaurant business.

Edna Lewis

[]         EDNA LEWIS:

A champion of Southern Cooking and daughter of an emancipated slave – Edna Lewis brought a history of black America to the restaurant table. Her political activism aside, Chef Lewis made her mark at many restaurants including the famous Gage and Tollner in Brooklyn, New York. She was a chef, restaurateur, teacher and cookbook author. I had the pleasure of meeting her and enjoying the robust flavors of her food many years ago at the James Beard Taste of New York.


[]         BARBARA LYNCH:

Listed in Time Magazine as one of the most influential People of 2017 and James Beard Award Winner as Most Outstanding Restaurateur in 2014, Lynch has made her mark on the American Restaurant scene. Her organization – Barbara Lynch Gruppo includes an array of restaurants including No. 9 Park, B and G Oysters, and Menton.



Chef Silverton was awarded the 2014 designation as the James Beard Most Outstanding Chef in America – an award that she humbly thought she didn’t deserve. Early in her career she opened Wolfgang Puck’s groundbreaking Spago Restaurant as Pastry Chef where her desserts became the most sought after ticket in town. Later, with chef husband Mark Peel they would open the critically acclaimed Campanile. They then opened La Brea Bakery as an unpretentious outlet for Nancy’s fabulous breads because they weren’t able to find decent bread anywhere else in the Bay Area. Her passion for bread helped to re-invent bread baking in America and as La Brea grew exponentially so too did American’s expectation for this type of product elsewhere. When it became too large and impersonal for her – Chef Silverton sold the bakery name and took a sabbatical back in Italy to study her roots and refresh. She now operates Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza where she personifies simple, delicious preparations paying homage to the importance of the ingredients used.



Chef and Restaurateur Chef Des Jardins owns a French California operation called Jardinière as well as a Taqueria, Sports Pub, and other operations in the Presidio of San Francisco. A champion of local/sustainable ingredients and farming – she is a strong voice in helping to constantly define California Cuisine. She has appeared on Top Chef and Iron Chef America.



Chef/Owner of the famous 30 seat – Prune Restaurant in Brooklyn, New York – Hamilton’s mastery of simple food done well has won her critical acclaim. She is the author of Prune Cookbook and a novel titled: Blood, Bones, and Butter – a portrayal of kitchen life. Her Masters Degree in Fine Arts – Creative Writing along with her experiences on the line has made for storytelling at the highest level.



Part of a highly influential restaurant family – Lidia started her restaurant career in a Manhattan pizzeria. She and her husband went on to open their first restaurant in 1971 in Queens, New York. Felidia, as it was named, opened to national acclaim.

She studied Italian Cooking as a sous chef at Buonavia Restaurant leading to her eventual reputation as an authentic ambassador for traditional Italian cooking. She wound up with her own PBS series on Italian Food, authored multiple cookbooks, built a restaurant Empire in New York City, became co-owner with her son Joe, of Eataly properties in America, put her stamp on a line of cookware, and opened Bastianich Vineyards in Maremma, Italy.


[]         ALICE WATERS:

Of course no article on the influence of women in the restaurant business would be complete without talking about Alice Waters. Influenced by her time in France, Alice – a child of the San Francisco 1960’s culture, would open Chez Panisse – a free form Berkeley restaurant that even today continues to define California Cuisine. She became the patron saint of organic, natural, local ingredients and cooking. She remains a champion for farmers and political causes that have their roots in the food that we eat. Many of the country’s most prominent chefs had their start working for and with Alice – including Jeremiah Towers. She is an author, TV celebrity, chef, restaurateur, and advocate for improving our lives through food.


[]         JULIA CHILD:

Julia may not have been a chef, but it was her love of good food and desire to show everyone how to cook well that rocketed her to fame. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris while her husband served in the American Diplomatic Corps, she was determined to bring the French style of Cooking to every American home. Through her TV series, cookbooks, and gregarious personality – she made cooking fun and centrally important to all. Her love of chefs and professional cooks helped to propel the profession to where it is today.



A British chef of renown – her time at the famous River Café and later chef/owner of the Spotted Pig and The Breslin made Chef Bloomfield a household name. She studied American Food with Alice Waters in San Francisco as a precursor to opening the Spotted Pig and in 2005 was awarded 1 Michelin Star – one of the first such recognitions in the U.S. April went on to open other restaurants in New York City and San Francisco.


[]         DOMINQUE CRENN:

Dominique landed in San Francisco from France and worked with Jeremiah Towers at his restaurant “Stars”. Later she would move to Campton Place and on to InterContinental Hotels in Indonesia. After returning to America she served as chef at the Manhattan Country Club, and Luce at the InterContinental where she earned a Michelin Star. She opened Atelier Crenn in San Francisco to national praise where she won Two Michelin Stars and most recently her Third Star. She is the first women chef in America to earn this honor.   In 2016 she was recognized as the best female chef (Still not sure why this designation – she is the BEST CHEF – period.) and appeared on Season 2 of the series – Chef’s Table.



Chef/owner of two extremely popular Chicago restaurants: Girl and the Goat, and Duck, Duck, Goat. It is always impressive to watch her line of focused, almost entirely young women cooks. She won the James Beard award for Best Chef – Great Lakes and has participated many times on Top Chef as well as defeating Chefs Flay, Symon, and Morimoto on Iron Chef Gauntlet. I love her restaurants!


[]         SUSAN SPICER:

In New Orleans, Susan Spicer’s name carries as much weight as Emeril Lagasse, John Folse, and the late Paul Prudhomme. He time in France at such world renown restaurants as Louis XVI in Monte Carlo, set the course of her French influenced restaurants in the Big Easy. She now operates s cluster of restaurants in her home city making Chef Spicer one of the greatest ambassadors for New Orleans Cuisine – a melting pot style of cooking with connections to French, Southern Black, Spanish, African, and Haitian cuisines.

This is, by no means, a complete list – there are many women who inspire others and bring a level of excellence to the restaurant business. They, as well as the short list above, have never received their due respect – this falls on all of our shoulders. Chefs are chefs and if a person owns the characteristics and abilities of the position, they are, and must be on equal ground. This pertains to how they are respected and recognized and how they are compensated. On this International Women’s Day let’s stand tall and support all chefs who make a difference.

For those interested in more about the on-going influence of American Women Chefs and Restaurateurs – please click on the link to WCR – Women Chefs and Restaurateurs – the leading organization for the promotion of women in professional kitchens.



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