Jamie Leeds wants to spotlight female chefs
This week, 220 female chefs arrived in Washington for the 10th annual Women Chefs & Restaurateurs Conference. Local chef Jamie Leeds, owner of Hank's Oyster Bar and CommonWealth Gastropub, is the organization's new president. The group kicked off the conference with its Women Who Inspire gala dinner and awards ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton last night, honoring Nora Pouillon with the Genesis Award and also granting recognition to three other D.C. women for their restaurant work: Kate Jansen, pastry chef/owner of Willow; Ellen Gray, general manager/owner of Equinox; and Ris Lacoste, chef/owner of the forthcoming Restaurant Ris.
WCR was founded in 1993 to promote education and advancement of women in the industry. Which, any female chef will tell you, can be a tough slog. It's not that there aren't a lot of women chefs, Leeds told me. (Though it sometimes feels like that here in Washington.) It's that women don't get the attention their male counterparts do.
Why is that? What can be done to change it? I talked with Leeds to get her take.
Q: In the 1970s, chefs such as Alice Waters, Nora Pouillon and Lydia Shire proved they could compete in the male-centered culinary world. Today, there seem to be fewer women making names for themselves. Do you agree?
A: I think the women are there. I just don't think they are written about a lot. People don't know about them. That's one of the issues that I have.
Q: Why do they get ignored?
A: I don't know the answer to that question. But I do know there are some great women chefs that don't get the attention they deserve.
Q: Such as?
A: Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass in Chicago; Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia, Floataway Café and Abattoir in Atlanta; Maria Hines of Tilth in Seattle; Ina Pinkney of Ina’s Kitchen in Chicago.
Q: In other cities I've lived in – Boston, New York, San Francisco – I can name lots of female chef-owners. Here, there are chefs but not as many with their own restaurants. Is Washington tougher for women than other cities?
A: There are a lot of women chefs in this town. Again, they aren't out in the public as much as the boys are. We did this calendar event for WCR, and the women came out in droves. There were almost 40 women chefs involved. Tracy O'Grady from Willow. Kate Jansen [also of Willow]. Heather Chittum [of Hook]. Janis Mclean of 15 ria. The women are just not as interested in the limelight as the boys are.
A: They're not aggressive in their media. And in their PR. And that's the nature of a lot of women. And I think it's human nature. One of the things that I would like to start doing for people, if that's what they want to do, is to help them with that. At this year's conference, we have a media training session that we're offering.
Q: Is that why there aren't as many women chef-owners?
A: Yes, it comes back to the issue of not being able to ask for the money. They are not as aggressive, and I think it is harder for them to get money because of that.
-- Jane Black
November 2, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: Chefs | Tags: Jane Black, Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, conventions
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