33 Tastemakers Shaping The Future Of Culinary Arts

33 Tastemakers Shaping

The Future Of Culinary Arts

In the wake of scandals that have rocked the culinary world, March’s National Women’s History month serves as an important reminder that women in the restaurant industry still have a long way to go in terms of gender equality.  Despite the long association between women and the kitchen, studies show it is less likely for a women to be hired as a head chef than as a CEO. Yet, female chef-restaurant owners are on the rise, and collected below are examples of extraordinary women who are working within their communities (and kitchens) to show just what women can bring to the table.

Cat Cora

Cat Cora is a world-renowned chef, author, restaurateur, contributing editor, television host and personality, actress, avid philanthropist, lifestyle entrepreneur and proud mother of six that is best known for her featured role as the first female “Iron Chef” on Food Network’s Iron Chef America. Since then, she has shattered the glass ceiling as one of the first females to dominate the historically male culinary industry and has blazed her own trail, becoming the first female inducted into The American Academy of Chefs Culinary Hall of Fame. Cat has since been featured extensively on a number of television shows, most recently as co-host on BRAVO's "Around the World in 80 Plates" as well as FOX's "My Kitchen Rules.” She has opened more than 18 restaurants across the U.S. and globally, including: Cat Cora’s Kitchen, Ocean by Cat Cora, Cat Cora’s Gourmet Market, Kouzzina by Cat Cora at Disney World, CCQ at Macy’s, Cat Cora’s Taproom, OLILO, Mesa Burger and her newest addition, Wicked Eats by Aramark. Cat continues to be a leader in her industry as she masterfully synchronizes her award-winning talents with mainstream accessibility, all while she evolves into a space beyond the culinary world. CatCora.com   "I never let being a woman determine my success in the restaurant world, only influence it in a positive way. I was raised by a strong mother and after graduating from CIA, I went on to work with other very strong and successful women, like Julia Child. I have watched women succeed everywhere I went and have never known any differently. Whenever I was faced with doubts, I took that as an opportunity to prove everyone wrong. I have used this philosophy to overcome so many adversities and have instead dominated a predominantly male industry. In a world that has a long way to go towards gender equality, women need to rise even further above the injustice and keep breaking glass ceilings. Always pay it forward and bring other qualified women up with you,” says Cat Cora.

Photo credit: Jonpaul Douglass

Susan Wolfla

Chef Susan Wolfla made Las Vegas history as the first female to be an Executive Chef of a major resort destination on The Strip. In her role, Wolfla oversees Mandalay Bay’s culinary operations for seven restaurants, all in-room and employee dining, manage more than 500 cooks and chefs and developing menus for large conventions that take place in the resort’s 1.7 million square feet of meeting space. Additionally, Chef Wolfla serves on the culinary advisory board of the Art Institute of Las Vegas and also is chairwoman of the culinary team for Three Square where she assisted in the design of their culinary kitchen. “It was common to be the only woman in the kitchen when I started cooking nearly 30 years ago. While I enjoyed working with all my male colleagues, it was easy to feel a bit like an outsider. As a result of this experience and as I have moved on to new roles in my career, I have found huge success in developing teams with diverse individuals. This environment allows each person to learn and collaborate with one another, fostering new ideas and perspectives that help us work on goals, projects and initiatives from a unified lens,” says Wolfla. “Being a chef is tough work! The kitchens are hot, the tasks are physically demanding and the lifestyle, specific to the hours required, is intense. However, these are challenges every male or female chef must face. My hope is that as more women rise in the culinary industry, we can work together to make things equitable for everyone- regardless of gender,” she says. Over course, over the years, the canvas does change. “Over the past 10 years, the number of women in the culinary industry has steadily increased. I believe this is due in part to the exposure of food-related news in the media. It has helped create an opportunity for female chefs to be in the spotlight and to showcase their talents, therefore inspiring other women to begin a career in the kitchen. My prediction is that the we will see an extensive increase in female chef talent in the coming years,” says Wolfla.

Rachel Binder

Rachel Binder is a Certified Sommelier, Court of Master Sommeliers and Former Wine Director at Plant Food and Wine. “I previously acted as wine buyer as well as wine director for Plant Food and Wine. I created and implemented “Champagne Campaign” as a way to create an opportunity for more people to taste great grower champagnes,” says Binder.I love watching people experience beautiful champagnes for the first time. Beautiful small production wine and champagne is an art to be experienced and it was wonderful to be able to encourage people to taste outside of their comfort zones. There are very few women sommeliers in the industry - there are only 24 master sommeliers that are women. It never even occurred to me that this might be something that I could do and be good at until I started working under another female somm. There's an attempt to change this with support amongst sommeliers, encouraging women to be somms. Unfortunately the restaurant industry has been male-dominated for a long time, so it's much harder for women to advance their career in the culinary world. As a single mother it was hard to keep up the hours as wine director, so I had to step down from the position and work as an on-floor sommelier. A man in my position would have been able to continue on as wine director,” says Binder.

Sue Torres

“I've created a consulting and catering company, EDJC Latin Flavors LLC in Connecticut. In addition I enjoy given private kid and adult cooking classes. This was formed as a result of my desire to be around for the early years of my kids. I have three amazing boys aged 2, 4 and 10. That being said, I'm itching to get back to the restaurant world. I'm entertaining a new Mexican restaurant project in close proximity to NYC. Ironically, the head developer said to me at our first meeting "I have two young ladies for daughters and I want to hire a woman to head this project!" That was a first and I admire him for saying so,” says Torres. Has being a woman in this industry helped/hurt her chances? “I can’t say that being a woman has hurt my chances of getting a job. I've been offered the job for every interview that I've been on since coming out of CIA. I've also been blessed with working some incredible chefs that have vouched for me and my job performance,” says Torres. “I've always considered any challenges as a chef to be a good thing. It taught me so many lessons in life. Resilience. Pride. Respect. Leadership. Honor. Strength. All of these qualities that I now have are a direct result of road blocks in my past. I'm grateful for every failure and accomplishment in my life and career. They have all had their place in creating who I am today and I love that about myself.  Personally, I'm tired of people asking what it's like to be a female chef. I want to be considered a Great Chef, period. My race, sex, religion should have no impact on these lists,” says Torres.

Maribel Rivero

Chef & Owner of Austin’s Yuyo, recently recognized as one of the 17 Hottest Restaurants in Austin. Maribel earned her Chef’s certification from the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio and went on to specialize in Latin cuisine, studying with renowned chefs from Puerto Rico, Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina and Peru, including Pedro Miguel Schiaffino and Virgilio Martinez. “Being a woman in the culinary industry has neither hurt nor helped me. The kitchen is a competitive environment and being assertive as a woman is imperative. The minute you show weakness or hesitation, men or women will take advantage,” said Maribel. “Once you show your ability to take charge in the kitchen, you are validated as a contributing and prominent player. There is always a power play environment that both men and women experience in professional kitchens.” (Maribel Rivero; Photo Credit: Toño Daal)

Maira Isabel Morales 

Maira Isabel Morales is the Corporate Executive Chef and Director of R&D of Schlotzsky's/FOCUS Brands. For the past 20+ years, Maira has been passionate about culinary arts and creating food that has that “wow” factor. Maira started off in the US without speaking English, originally as an art major before falling in love with culinary arts instead. She went on to earn both a BA in Business and an MBA in Marketing, worked in a variety of different restaurant kitchens, started her own catering consultancy, opened a cooking school in Puerto Rico called “Let’s Cook PR,” became a Telemundo/Univision celebrity chef and even worked as a chef for Disney. She did all of this while also adopting a daughter as a single mother. Throughout her career, Maira never saw her background as a Hispanic female as a detriment. She leaned into her roots and used them to jump-start her career by breaking through to Latina audiences via Hispanic media. Her determination, originality and grit helped open the doors to the opportunities that led her to where she is today: the culinary face of all 370+ Schlotzsky’s restaurants, and creator of innovative new menu items (like her Sweet n’ Sassy Sliders) that leave customers with that “wow” feeling every time they leave. Maira is passionate about the culinary industry and believes in helping other women in the industry reach their dreams. From her perspective, being a woman does not have to be detriment whatsoever – with passion, hard work and focus, anything is possible.

Amy Arnold

Amy Arnold is the Corporate Pastry Chef of Four Corners Tavern Group in Chicago, a long-standing successful hospitality group with over 14 concepts throughout the city. “I’ve learned to be independent, resilient, flexible, and tough. But above all I’ve learned gratitude. I’m beyond grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given and for who I have become!” says Arnold.  “I was never a soft female, growing up in a neighborhood of all boys, building forts and racing motorcycles…but I believe nothing prepares you for the life in a kitchen and the constantly changing extremes. As a woman you’re expected to make your home life and relationships a priority. However, if you want to take your career to the very top in the kitchen, male or female, the restaurant has to be your spouse. The hours are ridiculously long and the environment is extreme,” says Arnold. “You literally have to run, lift, organize, deal with hot tempers and extreme hot and cold environments, all sometimes within an hour and still pull yourself together and put on your most elegant game face when a customer asks for the chef to visit their table, or the owners walk in. You have to be tough, resilient. No one is going to sugar coat their language or expectations to keep from offending you. It is a male dominated environment and you have to be tough physically, and thick skinned emotionally to compete,” says Arnold. “I do believe as a woman you have to work twice as hard as a man for respect, but that’s only strengthened me as a chef and a human being. On the flip side, you earn a family that’s tighter than the one you have at home, who will have your back at a moment’s notice in the kitchen and out! You get paid to do what you love, and that incomparable feeling inside when someone tastes what you’ve created and can’t stop glowing...there’s nothing like it. Some kitchens are starting to enforce more rigid guidelines for behavior, but I believe this just leads to a general greater lack of respect for us from the men. I’ve always been the only executive/corporate female chef in every company I’ve worked. But I don’t think this is because women aren’t welcome, I think it’s because they choose not to put the rest of their life on hold to get there,” says Arnold.  “I’ve worked really hard to get where I am but regret none of it. I believe I’m a far better, stronger person now than when I started this journey. Every day is a new adventure and I can’t wait to see what the future will bring!” she says.

Jenny Willing

After launching several award-winning restaurants and managing globally-acclaimed bars throughout the UK, Jenny Willing joined Shoreditch's hippest hotel, The Curtain, as beverage director. Willing has devised eight concurrent drink programs at the hotel's various bars. In celebration of Women's History Month, Willing ideated four cocktails inspired by the female master distillers. The Gracie (of Hendricks), Stephanie (of Dewar's), Joy (of Appleton Estate) and Maria (of Herradura) cocktails will be served at LIDO, the hotel's year-round rooftop restaurant and bar accessible only to hotel guests and club members, from International Women's Day on March 8 through Mother's Day on May 11.


Sandi Vojta

Fifth generation winemaker Sandi Vojta continues the wine-making tradition passed down by her great-great-grandmother, who immigrated to the Dakota Territory in 1876. As the owner of  Prairie Berry Winery, Sandi’s family has been making wine from the South Dakota prairie's wild fruits since they first settled on the family homestead. Chasing the taste of her grandmother’s homemade wine, Sandi was inspired to replicate the process, producing their first bottle of semi-sweet Raspberry Apple wine. Fruits handpicked for the wines include: chokecherries, buffalo berries, wild grapes and wild plum. The Hill City-based winery is known for its award winning Red Ass Rhubarb, adding some tartness and sass to the mix. 

Edith Jiménez

Edith Jiménez is the proud owner of not one, but two of the best restaurants in Los Cabos, Mexico. Born and raised in the rural  town of Jalapa, she began learning the flavors of Guerreran cuisine while cooking with her grandmother. After arriving in Cabo San Lucas at just 15 years old, Edith got her start working  as a waitress at a restaurant called "Esthela's by the Sea." Today she owns that same restaurant, re-christening it “Ediths” in 1994. Edith's love of both Baja California and Guerreran cuisine is evidenced in her fusion of steaks and seafood with local ingredients, balancing authentic Mexican fare with light, fresh flavors. The Office, Edith's sister restaurant, specializes in seafood with a Mexican touch, and has become one of the most popular hangouts in Los Cabos. Tourists and locals alike love stopping by The Office for breakfast, lunch or dinner to eat at one of its colorful tables, which are right on the beach.

Jennifer Backman

After 17 years of experience in some of Rhode Island’s most celebrated kitchens, Jennifer Backman joined COAST, the Ocean House’s new fine dining restaurant. Offering a farm-to-table menu that changes nightly, the venue showcasing the finest of each season’s local produce. The restaurant's proximity to local farms allows them to source the highest quality ingredients of not only the season, but of the day, creating a distinctive dining experience for guests that presents the best possible menu night after night. In addition to sourcing fresh herbs from the resort’s backyard garden, Backman works with the Ocean House’s Food Forager, exercising her creative ability to turn ingredients collected in the morning into decadent meals by evening. Her established relationships with nearby farms in Connecticut and Rhode Island will ensure thoughtful menus.  

Lauren Macellaro

Recently awarded #2 in the Top 50 Restaurants in Tampa Bay, Reading Room is a bastion of female creativity, with executive chef Lauren Macellaro running the kitchen with her partner Jessika Palombo serving as beverage director. Growing up in Queens, Lauren's family immersed her in the  culture of food at a young age, influencing her eventual career oath. After training at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, Lauren got her start working for Floyd Cardoz & Danny Meyer at Tabla, a popular NYC joint serving contemporary indian fare. Travels took her to Philadelphia, and then Asheville, NC and finally to Florida,  where she worked two local hotspots, Locale Market and Rooster & the Till.  Reading Room is a newcomer to St. Pete’s up-and-coming foodie scene, structured around a philosophy of creating a space that unites the community with food culture. Created by a group of individuals who love restaurants, food, wine and hospitality, their mission was to create an environment that reflects years of experience, decades of taste buds, and a lifetime of ideas.

Lisa Riaiola

After a challenging fight with cancer, Lisa Riaiola started a food incubator where she could bring food to people like herself with special dietary restrictions. Located in a historic schoolhouse that had been shuttered in Warren, Rhode Island, Hope & Main was born and has since helped establish 120 food businesses, 200 jobs, and put 3 million into the food economy. In a community-wide effort, Lisa raised $3.5 million through a grassroots initiative with included needing 120 people to sign a petition, in which Lisa received over 500 signatures. With a mission to promote locally grown food, the culinary business incubator also includes a demonstration kitchen which offers workshops for aspiring chefs and cooking classes for children.

Kristina San Filippo

Kristina San Filippo  is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a passionate believer in the farm-to-table movement. Her Purple Spoon Culinary Center in Bonita Springs, FL, is a meeting places for local farmers, culinary enthusiasts, and community members looking to learn about sustainable growing methods, and a cooking method that starts (and ends) with fresh, local ingredients. Purple Spoon also offers cooking classes, farm-to-table dinners, farmers markets, and community dinners, in which mingling and talking with new acquaintances is highly encouraged. (Photo credit to John Gilchrist & Neubek Photography)

Melissa Talmage

On the shell-lined island of Sanibel off Florida's southwest coast, Sweet Melissa's is a chef-run bastion of refined creole cuisine. After opting out of law school to pursue cooking full time, executive chef and owner Melissa Talmage worked at some of the best restaurants in New York and New Orleans before opening her own place on Sanibel in 2009. Beloved by locals and tourists alike, dishes like conch and grouper ceviche, and poached-fig foie gras beignet, are a welcome burst of southern flavor among the hordes of key lime pies. (Photo credit to Andrew Tate at Paradise Creative)

Sarah Trubnick 

38 year old badass mom, restaurant owner, and sommelier Sarah Trubnick  has been involved in male dominated industries throughout the duration of her professional career.  “I think this has greatly aided me in my current industry. The restaurant and wine industries are still male dominated. More and more women are achieving management positions, emerging as owners of influential businesses, and being promoted as stellar producers/chefs/beverage directors. However, the gender bias is still evident. When, in 2011, I opened The Barrel Room as a small wine bar in the Tenderloin, I dealt with inappropriate comments from sales reps that showed their biases. "This wine is made with carbonic maceration. Do you know what carbonic maceration means?" Or, "This is a Bordeaux blend. You know that means Cabernet, right?" Questions and comments stated boldly in condescending tones, all issued by men, with no prior attempts made to asses my knowledge level or education. Or comments from my customers: "You're the owner? But you don't look like an owner..." or "So did you start this place with your dad's money?" (yes, both actual statements from customers),” says Trubnick. “My training in male dominated industries has definitely come in handy in dealing with this one. However I now find myself in a unique position: as the owner and wine director of three restaurants/bars, I can now speak with my money (and money has no gender). I opt not to do business with the men who make derogatory or condescending comments. Furthermore, I have decided to do my best to support women in the industry, whether they are on the producer side or distributor side,” says Trubnick. “As my businesses have grown, I have done my best to downplay gender and focus on skill. I prefer to be recognized for my abilities, my knowledge, and my entrepreneurial energy without mention of my gender. I am fully confident in my skill as a physicist, sommelier, wine educator, and business owner... the fact that I am a woman has no effect on any of these abilities. I hope to pass my confidence and beliefs on to my 4-year-old daughter, and I hope that the workforce she encounters will offer more equality.”

Rachael Polhill

Rachael Polhill is Executive Chef of Dante, the century old café in the heart of the West Village. "Having a position of leadership in this industry is a great privilege. I feel compelled not only to better myself for the benefit of my career but also for the benefit of my staff – especially the young women. I think this generation is in need of positive role models. I want young women to aspire to more than using their body as a means for recognition,” says Polhill. “Becoming a leader in the workplace, especially in a New York restaurant has pushed my limits... in a good way. I have discovered that I am capable of so much more than I thought. This means personally, professionally, and really on all level,” says Polhill. “Since becoming a leader in the industry, I am pursuing more than  just good food. I seek to change the culture in restaurant workplaces, and to empower young women to be dynamic assets of the industry,” she says.

Mary Dawn Wright

MaryDawn Wright has been leading Sabra’s culinary innovation as their Executive Chef since 2010.  Responsible for the development of new flavors and product lines, MaryDawn leads a team of food scientists at Sabra’s Center of Excellence in Virginia. “Well, it was a different world when I started working as a chef.  I went to college and majored in a highly employable subject matter-Anthropology.  So what does one do with an Anthropology degree if they do not want to go on and get a PhD?  I decided to go to law school.  I got accepted to one school but wasn’t very excited about it.  After a bit of reflection, I realized I hate paper work and I love cooking and baking.  At first, I decided to be a pastry chef.  People with college degrees did not decide to be Pastry chefs at that point in time.  It was not a valued profession.  There was no food network to elevate the profession or make the work look glamorous.  In fact,  it was unheard of.  But my parents were supportive.  They knew I was following my bliss,” says Wright. ”I decided to become a chef. I went to a culinary school run by the French Ministry of Education and went through a very classical apprenticeship.  I will keep this version of the story G rated.  Here, it wasn’t the instructors that were difficult.  It was my fellow chefs in the kitchen.  There was one other woman going through the training with me (she later quit the culinary world and became a plumber.  She’s probably retired by now and living in a villa somewhere).  The male chefs simply did not want a woman working on the line with them,” says Wright. “I wasn’t as strong or as tall as the men in the kitchen, so I problem solved.  I carried around a milk crate to stand on (so I could stir tall stock pots) and I began lifting weights. Pretty soon I could throw a stack of heavy cutting boards at the end of a shift onto a cart as well as anybody and breakdown a whole sheep without assistance,” she adds. “I am proud to say that I did help pave the way for the young women who are now creating wondrous experiences for the world.”

Rose Signor, General Manager and cicerone for Atomic Liquors and The Kitchen at Atomic: 

Rose is leading one of Las Vegas’ top craft beer destinations,  maintaining more than 20 rotating taps and one of Las Vegas’ largest bomber selections with more than 160 beers. She is an industry leader and strives to elevate the Las Vegas craft beer scene, leading her to launch Atomic City Brews in 2016, a festival program with a dual mission: expose Las Vegans to a variety of great beer not readily available in the city, and to expose brewers around the country to the burgeoning craft beer scene.  “I have never felt slighted or that any opportunity has passed me by in this industry because I'm a woman.  The Las Vegas beer community is relatively small, and for the most part, I feel beer people have open arms and are welcoming to anyone who loves beer and works hard to strengthen and educate the community.  The Las Vegas beer industry is still working hard to become competitive in the nationwide craft beer scene.  Do people maybe not take me as seriously?  Sure.  Have my male bartenders been credited with running the beer program over me when chatting with guests? All the time! It was even published once!  But I laugh at that sort of thing.  At the end of the day, I do what I truly love and what makes me happy.  I work hard and don't let anyone’s comments get to me. I used to, but I've toughened up. It's hard to say if that's due to my gender or my age, as I was also pretty young when I started running beer programs (24).  I feel like I've experienced more ageism than sexism in this industry. “

Katie Cruz, bartender at Atomic Liquors and The Kitchen at Atomic: 

Named “Rising Bar Star” by Vegas Seven in 2016, Katie is one of Las Vegas’ top bartenders. At 26 years old, she serves as a council member for the educational committee for USBG Las Vegas. She’s worked at several top cocktail bars including Oak & Ivy and Tacos & Beer, as well as serves as a brand ambassador for Mestizo Mescal, leading educational seamers.  “Being a woman in our industry has been more than frustrating at times, but through different jobs I've held, competitions I've been in, and industry trips taken, I've found true friends and colleagues within an incredible community. I've been very fortunate to work with and under powerhouses like Rose Signor, Felisha Leger, and Sarah Delgado-Rith. These are women whom have not only exceeded expectations and standards set by men for men but have done so under unjustifiable scrutiny. I've witnessed talented, smart, and strong women come together to lift each other up in a world where we're continually being torn down by customers over the bar or colleagues behind it. While I've heard some men in our industry credit certain women's accomplishments to the men they've befriended, dated, or just been around in a social setting, I've also seen my brothers in our industry stand up for us and claim ignorance behind the bar when a guest is insisting on a male to make their Old Fashioned or to speak on whiskey. I've learned how lucky I am to work where I am now with a great team of supportive co-workers and management. “

Jamie Tran, partner/executive chef at The Black Sheep 

Named Eater Las Vegas’ “Chef of the Year” Executive Chef/Partner Jamie has led the restaurant to high accolades in the Las Vegas community and beyond in less than a year since opening. Along with “Chef of the Year,” Eater Las Vegas named The Black Sheep both “Restaurant of the Year” and “Off-strip Restaurant of the Year.” Her other achievements include “Best Neighborhood Restaurant” by Desert Companion, “Best New Restaurant” by Thrillist and Las Vegas Weekly, as well as national recognition from USA Today, Food & Wine, and Observer.  The restaurant’s name pays homage to Jamie’s break through a male-dominated industry and her playful and rebellious spirit.  “I have felt underestimated because when I walk into a kitchen, I’m usually surrounded by all men. They automatically assume that I’m the pastry chef. I’ve spent my career pushing to surpass that perception of what a woman’s capabilities are in the kitchen and it has made me stronger - I don’t judge others since I know that feeling and I push my cooks to achieve their maximum potential, regardless of gender.”

Chef Gina Marinelli, executive chef at La Strega 

Currently Chef Gina is working to open La Strega, the newest authentic Italian dining concept in Las Vegas. She aims to educate and enlighten residents about Italy through her menu which will showcase her passion and knowledge of Italian cuisine. Previously Gina has worked for Michael Mina at Nobhill Tavern, Shawn McClain for the opening of Sage at Aria, Sven Mede at American Fish at Aria, and James Beard award-winning chef Scott Conant at D.O.C.G Enoteca at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Gina has also traveled extensively throughout Italy studying the nuances of Italian cuisine and immersing herself in Italian culture to enhance her creativity in the kitchen.  “It's ironic because the dynamic that helps female chefs also hurts female chefs. From my experience, people walk into the kitchen and automatically gravitate to the males and assume they are in charge. I often times find myself being like 'No. Hi, it's me.' In essence, a lot of female chefs are overlooked. At the same time, being overlooked motivates me to do my best and be the best. If someone tells me I can't do something, that motivates me to not only accomplish what they told me I couldn't do, but also to exceed expectations. Overall this dynamic, both the negative and the positive parts of it, has helped me mature. When people are young, they often are trying to figure out what they're passionate about. Having to prove myself even more because I'm a female has made me more dedicated to my passion and craft. I've also noticed that this mentality of tackling challenges and overcoming stereotypes creates a wonderful camaraderie between female chefs, especially here in Las Vegas. We all support and empower one another. You can be a seasoned chef with years of experience or right out of culinary school, but we all share that common experience of being a female chef and that empowerment is key.”

Liz Martinez, Wine Director & Sommelier at Prime + Proper

Liz came to Detroit determined to introduce the city to wines they may never have tasted before, and with the 300+ bottle wine list she’s curated at Prime + Proper, she’s achieved that goal. With a huge range in styles, the Prime and Proper wine list has an interesting focus on old world, and somewhat obscure wines. With the culinary menu in mind, she has selected wines from Lebanon and Greece, as well as a number of wines from her favorite country for wine, Italy. In addition, there are a good amount of steakhouse classics, with a large collection of domestic Cabernet and Bordeaux. There are no wines from South America or South Africa, on the list, but she have elected to show wines that make sense for the restaurant, not only in terms of gastronomy, but in terms of setting Prime + Proper apart from everyone else in Detroit. In short, she’s here to expand Detroit’s wine palate, educate those guests that are eager to learn more, and have some fun along the way. “Being a woman in this industry has actually empowered me. The hospitality industry has helped me figure out how to make a living and raise my son by myself. It made me realize that even though I was an uneducated single mom, if I worked hard enough, I could become a professional in my field. There have been difficulties, yes, and there were times when I realized that being a woman, I had to work twice as hard, but it has made me appreciate any success that I have had even more. There are plenty of male sommeliers out there, but I believe that women have a different approach to wine. Perhaps it is that we allow a bit more emotion into the guest experience. Perhaps for me, it is that I am intuitively a bit more maternal and want to care for my guests the best way that I can. Regardless, I have a true respect for the hospitality industry and the opportunities that it offers.”  (Image Credit—Aly Sasson).

Robyn Almodovar

Women don't have it easy in the restaurant industry, and the LGBTQ community doesn't have it easy overall. Throw in a side of anxiety and a dash of "in your face" attitude, and you have a recipe for disaster - or brilliance - and even Gordon Ramsay agrees, she is "Brilliant". Chef Robyn Almodovar is the Owner and Executive Chef of Palate Party at Rumors in Wilton Manors. She is known for her bold dishes that give you a "party in your mouth" every time, but she is also known for being an inspirational female chef. She has competed on Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, Hell's Kitchen and is returning on this season's Hell's Kitchen All Stars. She has beat out the men (and women), and pulled no punches, calling them out on their misogyny and b.s. along the way. She is wonderfully outspoken as an advocate for the gay and lesbian community. She is honest and open about her struggles and her rise above anxiety, depression and drug abuse. She is a Chef Ambassador for several companies, both in the states and internationally, bringing the flavors of South Florida across the world. She is an empowered and empowering woman who is showing daily that you can be open, vulnerable and still bad ass in the kitchen. 

Oona Tempest

She's the woman behind Sushi by Bae, which is hidden inside Jue Lan Club in Chelsea.  The rising star in the industry and former Zagat 30 Under 30 recipient is a bit of a unicorn seeing as she's a non-Japanese, female sushi chef, something you won't find very often anywhere in the world let alone in NYC. That said the former artist has been turning heads for all the right reasons; namely for her killer knife skills and her craveworthy 90-minute $100 omakase, served up every Tuesday-Saturday for 4 guests at a time over the course of three hard to get a seat at seatings.

Alexandra Shapiro

Alexandra Shapiro, owner of Flex Mussels, is a female restaurateur with more than a decade of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry. A New York City native, today Flex Mussels’ innovative menu offers more than 23 varieties of mussels, affording Shapiro a blank canvas for expressing her culinary creativity. Inspired by her family’s original Flex Mussels outpost in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Shapiro sought to bring the authentic allure and fresh ingredients of a seaside eatery to her home city.  Shapiro’s parents, Bobby and Laura Shapiro, are well known industry leaders for their restaurant concept and culinary innovations. Through her establishment of Flex Mussels in New York City, Shapiro has continued her family legacy of developing brands that are synonymous with exceptional ingredients and quality.  

Jackie Cochran

Executive Chef for Stowe, Vermont’s most exclusive dining venues, the Alpine Clubhouse and the Cottage, Jackie Cochran. Chef Cochran oversees all culinary operations for each venue, spends time crafting individual menus, takes tremendous pride in mentoring her staff and loves the hustle and bustle of a fast-paced kitchen environment. Born in the Philippines, Chef Cochran was introduced to the culinary world at a young age by her mother who owned a traditional Chinese restaurant just outside Manila. After moving to California, she carried her passion for Asian cuisine with her by incorporating traditional lessons learned from her family with her work at the California Culinary Academy, an affiliate of Le Cordon Bleu. Her culinary travels brought her to Aspen, where she was tasked by renowned culinary arts magazine Food & Wine to form a Chef’s Club. There, she generated a positive learning environment, rotating four Michelin Star or James Beard Award winning chefs every six months to teach her staff how to perfect specific dishes.  Jackie joined the Stowe Mountain Lodge culinary team in 2014, as the Executive Sous Chef of the hotels restaurants Solstice and Hourglass, where she brought her experience in coaching and a mastery of modern cuisine to life. “ Being a women in the culinary world has made me stronger both emotionally and mentally.  I’m able to adapt better to my surroundings and am more flexible. As a side note, since having kids, I’ve definitely become more patient with my staff and have become more understanding in situations. I manage my staff more personally and emotionally. I’ve used the fact that I am a woman in the culinary industry has an advantage more so than a disadvantage by creating relationships with my team more on a personal level.  I use the knowledge that I’ve learned from previous chefs to create more of a learning environment,’ says Cochran.

Katie Bundschu

Katie is a sixth-generation vintner, vice president of marketing and sales at Gundlach Bundschu (one of the first wineries in California) and vintner at her latest project Abbot’s Passage. As a sixth-generation vintner, Katie Bundschu always knew she’d be involved in the wine business. From pruning and tying vines to harvesting grapes as a child, the Gundlach Bundschu Winery, California’s second winery, established in 1858, runs deep in Bundschu’s roots. In Fall of 2016, Bundschu launched her own wine label called Abbot’s Passage, a boutique collection featuring small-lot, co-fermented field blends sourced from storied family vineyards in Sonoma and beyond. “I've been in the wine industry pretty much my entire life--whether officially or unofficially--since Gundlach Bundschu is our family's business founded in 1858. The wine industry has traditionally been somewhat of an old boys’ club, although that has shifted lately. It used to be significantly more difficult to be a woman in the industry, and now I think it’s becoming a benefit--women are known to have a better sense of smell, taste, etc. which is vital in tasting and making great wine. I'm also one of the first women in our family's lineage to take on an executive role at the company. Since we're a family business, it is not about male or female. It is about what you bring to the table, how you continue the heritage of the business and how you try to make it greater every day. I will say that the local wine community is very supportive, and that being a woman only heightens that support (because you get what you give). For example, when I opened my retail store, Abbot’s Passage Supply Co. last December, most, if not all of my peers showed up to support me at the soft opening. It was such a great feeling, knowing that I have a solid community behind me in my new endeavor.” 

Laura Johnson

Laura is CEO, Co-Founder and Distiller of You & Yours in San Diego - California's first destination distillery. “I knew I wanted to be in the distilling industry, so I spent time post-college immersing myself in the industry every way I could - courses, workshops, apprenticeships, anything I could find! Even with all of my knowledge, I was rejected or ignored by several positions. You definitely don't think of me when you think of a production assistant or a distilling assistant; it's more so a male-dominated field,” says Johnson.  So, after searching for a job, to no avail, I made the decision to finish the business plan for what would eventually become You & Yours and just start a distillery myself,” says Johnson. “For the research and development process, we're usually working on a small perfume still, doing up to 50 different iterations of a recipe to yield a super small batch - around 500 mLs each or less - before we scale the recipe up to our larger still to tweak and refine. Depending on what else we have going on, this process can take a few months. “ Launched in March 2017 after three years of planning, You & Yours is a full production distillery, tasting room and event space, with a world-class cocktail program highlighting current spirits offerings (Session Vodka & Sunday Gin).

Candy Schibli

Founder, head roaster and CEO of Southeastern Roastery in Washington, DC.  Coffees available online at www.southeasternroastery.com Candy's company is not only female owned and operated, but also strives to aid women in the areas in which her coffee is produced, as well as support women and women's issues in the industry and in general.  The coffee industry is definitely male-dominated.  One can probably count the number of women who are roasters and producers worldwide on one or maybe two hands. In 2003, an International Woman's Coffee Alliance (IWCA) was formed and now boasts a network of 22 chapters (as of 2017); so obviously woman's presence in this industry is growing.  Many of these women are not roasters or producers, but in agriculture (working on farms; picking beans, etc.).  

Candy says: "As a female roaster, I have been in situations where I have been the only woman in a cupping. For the most part my counterparts in the industry have been, luckily, open to invite me to coffee roasting events, cuppings and collaborations. Perhaps this is because I am the only female usually and they are making an effort to make me feel included. And that, I appreciate.   Women play an integral role in Southeastern Roastery.  Not only is the business woman-owned and operated, one of Schibli’s main focuses is to seek out and incorporate women from importers to producer based social programs that place an emphasis on woman’s health and well-being.  Southeastern Roastery currently imports from both international and more local green coffee growers with which Schibli builds a close relationship.  Female importers represent Paisa Coffee out of Colombia and Chiru Coffee of Kenya. Southeastern Roastery also imports from Keffa Coffee and Gold Mountain Coffee (to which Schibli conducted an origin trip in January 2017) which focus on supporting and implementing programs for women and girls in Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Nicaragua. Schibli is constantly researching constantly to make more connections like these in the industry. Candy  has a history of excelling in male-dominated areas.  She graduated college with a degree in engineering and then graduate school in environmental sciences—natural resource management which led her to Costa Rica and with that, enlightenment and a new career.  She is a graduate of Florida A&M University, American University, and Universidad para La Paz holding degrees in engineering, international affairs, and natural resources and sustainable development.

Michelle Poteaux

Pastry Chef/Co-Owner Bastille Restaurant in Alexandria, VA. Michelle Poteaux runs the restaurant with her husband, Christophe.  Obviously, and as you've pointed out, the restaurant industry, especially in the kitchen, is male-dominated.  Here are some of the things Michelle has learned, what has helped, hurt, what she's done to overcome the odds: "Being a woman in this industry has taught me that I am even stronger than I ever thought I could be.  It was because of a former boss, who reluctantly gave me a meager raise because I wasn't a 'hard-working guy,' I have pushed myself to do everything that any "guy" would do and just do it better.  I realized that I have to prove myself to a lot of people every day that I can do my job, but I have also learned that no matter what, no matter how many strides women make in this industry, there are men who just CAN'T deal with a woman in charge. I like the pressure of a kitchen, it feeds a small part of me and it has helped me to continue what I love to do."

Mikala Brennen

Chef/owner of Hula Girl Bar & Grill in Shirlington- (Mikala has an all-female kitchen staff) . "We have to be tougher then our male counterparts most of the time – which is stupid.  Most women in kitchens are told to have ‘thicker skin’ to put up with and tolerate the bullying that happens in this setting.  As I worked my way through both the FOH and BOH – I was often passed over for male counterparts – which was more then frustrating for so many years.  I fought for each position that I held in each restaurant I worked in – but you do have to advocate for yourself,  speak up and push back sometimes. When I became the chef and owner of my business – one of my main goals was to train and mentor my staff – something that can be hard on days – since owning a business can make you spread way too thin.  My kitchen evolved over time to a 99% female kitchen – something that I now am very protective over.  Most of the ladies worked on salad stations or prep – not given the training to run the grill or sauté stations.  I worked with them – seeing which of them gravitated towards which area of the kitchen – but, also cross-training them for the stations.  These ladies are rock stars – and I am so very blessed to work with them day after day.  Being a woman has helped me achieve the goal of making stronger women cooks in a setting that is not full of bullying – but, a setting that has been tough in a positive way.  Pushing them to become better because I know they are."  

Brynn Smith

Rossoblu and Sotto bar director Brynn Smith is definitely making a name for herself in the LA bartending community. Alton Brown is a big fan of Brynn's. On his podcast,  they discussed the art of the cocktail. Per Alton, "I belly up to a lot of bars across this country and every now and then the person on the other side of said appliance, has a spark in their eye and knowledge in their noggin’. Sometimes this person prepares for me a concoction that opens my eyes to something new and wonderful and that’s exactly what Brynn Smith did for me one evening at Sotto, Steve Samson’s excellent basement eatery on Pico. So of course I asked her to be on the Browncast.": "I love being a woman in this male dominated world of bartenders, because that way I can always show people what’s up eventually! People underestimate you as a woman and it’s the best feeling you get them to realize that you are legit, and in a humble way by making delicious cocktails, providing knowledge and giving great service. There is definitely is a double standard when it comes being a female bartender in the bar industry. Like most careers out there, women and men are perceived differently in the bar. There have been a few times where I am asked "Sweetie do you know how to make an Old Fashioned?" or two of us will be ready to help customers and the male customer will usually go to the guy assuming he is the expert. It’s funny but hey “Tale as old as time.” We badass bar females are changing people's perceptions everyday so we keep it moving!"

Aly Walansky

Aly Walansky is a freelance lifestyles writer based in New York City, who contributes regularly to iVillage, SheKnows.com, xoJane, Huffington Post, and The Fashion Spot as well as many other print and web outlets.

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