I know it’s hard for anyone in this town to think beyond a certain date with destiny this Sunday, but, hey, what are you doing the Sunday after the Super Bowl?
February 9th is the date for “Women Stars of Food & Wine,” an afternoon soiree showcasing dozens of Northwest women chefs, winemakers and sommeliers at the newly remodeled Columbia Tower Club. Fittingly, the event supports the Women’s Funding Alliance, a group that invests in organizations “working to promote progressive change and social justice for women and girls.”
News of this foraging of female talent coincided with reading Julia Moskin’s piece, “A Change in the Kitchen,” last week in The New York Times about the ascendancy of women in New York’s top kitchens. Moskin writes:
“A leading kitchen run by a woman is no longer newsworthy. But it is not quite commonplace, either; the tag “female chef” is still applied to Anita Lo, Barbara Lynch, April Bloomfield, Dominique Crenn (the first woman in North America to have a restaurant with two Michelin stars) and dozens of others. Certainly the most visible chefs are men, a fact made clear in November by a Time Magazine spread that showcased its choice of the world’s most influential chefs, with not a woman among them.”
Thinking back over the 20 years I’ve been covering the Seattle restaurant scene, it struck me that our city has been ahead of the curve when it comes to women heading kitchens: Monique Barbeau, Emily Moore, Kathy Casey, Chris Keff, Tamara Murphy, Holly Smith, Maria Hines, Renee Erickson and Rachel Yang are a just a few prominent names that come to mind. I contacted some of them to get their thoughts.
Café Juanita chef/owner Holly Smith, who won a James Beard Award as Best Chef Northwest in 2008, recalled in an email, “When I first moved here in 1993 Tamara (Murphy) and Chris (Keff) were both in charge of kitchens and super cool. Monique (Barbeau) was on billboards!!! I remember thinking that I was super lucky to be in a city where woman were in charge. In Baltimore, there was one woman chef I knew of before I left.”
Rachel Yang, co-chef and co-owner with her husband Seif Chirchi of Joule and Revel, worked in various kitchens in New York City from 2001-2007, most of them fairly high-end. She said, “The article is pretty accurate portraying how it’s been a boy’s club for so long but things are shifting quite a bit now.” Acknowledging the strong presence of female chefs in Seattle, she said, “I feel pretty lucky to be part of a very progressive trend.”
Carrie Mashaney moved here from Iowa and bounced between pastry, savory and front of the house jobs in several restaurants. She was a pastry chef at Café Juanita before joining Jason Stratton at Spinasse. The recent Top Chef-testant, who now runs the kitchen at Stratton’s new Spanish restaurant, Aragona, says, “I just think of myself as a chef, not a woman chef. It could very well be that it seems more normal to me because I’ve always worked in Seattle where there are these other women. I’ve never had to deal personally with sexism in the kitchen. I’ve been really lucky to work with chefs who have been accepting and encouraging.”
The chefs agree that gender balance in the kitchen is a good thing, if sometimes hard to achieve. “I like a mixture of male and female,” says Smith. “More than once in my life as a cook I have felt that too many of us (women) could become too intense. We need the guys to mellow us a bit!”
Mashaney says a good balance makes a happier kitchen. Men currently outnumber women by about two-to-one in Aragona’s kitchen. At Joule, one cook out of six is female; at Revel it’s four out of ten. Both Mashaney and Yang say they get fewer resumes from women than from men. Both wish there were more.
Mashaney is one of the headliners of “Women Stars of Food & Wine.” The line-up is impressive. Chefs include Zoi Antonitsas of Westward, Kathy Casey of Liquid Kitchen, Thoa Nguyen of Chinoise, Robin Leventhal of Wine Country Culinary Institute in Walla Walla, Ericka Burke of Volunteer Park Café, Mutsuko Soma of Miyabi 45th, Monica Dimas of mkt. and Adria Shimada of Parfait Ice Cream & Patissierre.
For the event, each chef will create an appetizer matched to a particular wine. “Stations will pair winemakers and chefs. Somms will mingle and offer blind wine tasting challenges as they interact with the crowd,” said David LeClaire of Seattle Uncorked, the event organizer.
Advance tickets are $50 per person; $90 per couple. Get them through the Women’s Funding Alliance.