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Women Bring Something to the Table and the Kitchen

Thursday, July 24, 2014   (0 Comments)
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Rohini Dey, Ph.D., Founder/Owner, Vermilion (NYC & Chicago) and Co--Founder of the Women in Culinary Leadership Training Program; Susan Ungaro, President, James Beard Foundation and Co--Founder of the Women in Culinary Leadership Training Program; James Versocki, NYC Chapter Counsel, New York State Restaurant Association; Dan Soloway, NYC Chapter Board Member, New York State Restaurant Association at Vermilion in New York City. View more photos from this event and other events.

Women chefs were the main topic of conversation during a recent Women in Culinary Leadership (WICL) event held at Vermilion in New York City. But if Susan Ungaro, the president of the James Beard Foundation, had her way we'd be dropping "women" from the term "women chefs."


"We still are using female or women as an adjective," said Ungaro, who is the co-founder of the WICL program. "That's sort of my mantra. Let's make it so common that eventually we don't do that anymore. It's not common enough, and we still have a road to travel."


The WICL is helping to make Ungaro's mantra a reality by offering accelerated training programs for aspiring women culinary leaders who are looking to move up in the restaurant industry. Grantees work for a year in all areas of a participating restaurant. At the end of the year they are ready to lead a restaurant or kitchen.


Vermilion's New York City location was the first restaurant sponsor of a WICL grantee. Rohini Dey, the founder of the restaurant, is a WICL co-founder. "I'd like the field to be level," said Dey during a panel discussion during the evening event. "Women have to deal with a grunt of lifestyle choices" when they are trying to break though the "gastro ceiling."


It was these lifestyle choices that occupied much of the panel discussion, which included Ungaro and Dey and chef Kristen Kish, culinary expert and food writer Gail Simmons, and chef Michael White of Osteria Morini restaurant, part of Altamarea Group. The panel was monitored by Dana Cowin, the editor-in-chief of Food and Wine.


Simmons recalled seeing a pregnant Barbara Lynch, a leading Boston restaurateur, eight-months pregnant "killing it" in the kitchen of No. 9 Park. But "not everyone can do that," Simmons said.


There is much to be done to welcome women in restaurants whether they are young or old, starting a family or caring for a family member, the panelists agreed.


It's about "demystifying the hiring of women in this industry," said White.

Altamerea Group seems well on its way to solving this puzzle. Lauren DeSteno recently took over the helm of chef de cuisine at Marea, an Altamarea Group restaurant.


But "why are women chefs so important?" asked Cowin, noting that it was a provocative question but one that they needed to address.


Diversity is important "not just in the culinary world, but diversity in the workplace is paramount to get the best ideas," said White before the panel. "I'm looking for the person who does the best job."


And "we all bring something to the table," Kish answered with an appropriate pun.


According to the first WICL grantee, Eliza Martin, a diverse restaurant kitchen is in the near future. "The change is coming," she said when she came out of the kitchen in chef whites and a purple bandana after the panel.


"It's an exciting and heady time to be in the industry," said Ungaro.

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