It's an unfortunate truth that women are underrepresented at most food conferences, including some of the biggest. Chefs and writers don't just share ideas at these events—they network, too. That's one of the reasons yesterday's Jubilee conference was such a breath of fresh air.
The Jubilee was the work of Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu, the duo behind Cherry Bombe, the women's magazine devoted to food and beauty, and the for-women-by-women event was all about celebrating women in food—and introducing them to each other.
Panelists and keynote speakers including Mimi Sheraton, April Bloomfield, Gabrielle Hamilton, and Anita Lo talked beginnings in the food industry, obesity and hunger, and the relationship between chefs and the media. Here are some takeaways from the day.
First Jobs, Commitment, and Culinary School
April Bloomfield, chef of Spotted Pig and the Breslin: If you spend less than a year here, don't even tell people you worked here.
Bloomfield: It's all about drive, less about schooling.
Katie Button, chef of Curate: I think a strong work ethic, the right attitude, and passion are all more important than a culinary degree.
On Being a Boss and a Mentor
Anita Lo, chef of Annisa: It's a chef's responsibility to mentor employees. Working in this industry, there's a lot of hard work for little compensation. Part of the deal is that you get a mentor.
Bloomfield: I have a cook who's ready to leave and do her own thing. Nothing would give us more pleasure than to help her.
Button: When I called [my mentor] Jose Andres days before we opened, he flew members of his team down to help me launch the restaurant. He's always recommending me for events. He inspires me to be a better mentor.
Do Women Have an Obligation to Write About Women?
Amanda Kludt, Editorial Director of Eater: I think everyone in the media has the responsibility to write about all kinds of diverse points of view. Men should write about women, women should write about men. The whole point of what we do is to represent the food world. I think everyone should be writing about everything.
Mimi Sheraton, former Restaurant Critic for the New York Times: We want to write about anyone doing something interesting, good, or even badly sometimes. I don't believe we should go out of our way to find women.
Amanda Cohen, chef of Dirt Candy: I don't think they have to go out of their way to find untalented women. But I think there is a responsibility to search out and, maybe, write about women who aren't written about as much. As a woman, I want to give women an opportunity who may not otherwise have been given much of a chance. I hire male chefs, but I look to hire female chefs who may have otherwise been overlooked.
Kristen Kish, winner of Top Chef and departing chef of Menton: I know as a chef, I would be disappointed if a woman wrote about me just because I was a woman.
On Media Attention
Kish: Going on television, you're putting yourself out there. With that recognition, they're interested in who you're dating, your family life, whatever else....[But] not once while I was at Menton did someone write about my food. They would sit in my seat, have my tasting menu, no one ever wrote about their experience. But everyone's writing about every single other thing.
Cohen: I do think it's harder for women to get funding. If you don't get written about as much then you don't get investors. Because they don't have the financial backing they can't get PR, which means they don't get written about. It's a cycle. Women open fabulous restaurants, but they tend to be smaller.
On Gender Breakdown Among Restaurant Critics
Sheraton: There's a certain cachet to being male, the man about town. When Craig Clairbone left his post, the word was out they wanted a male. Even the editor, who was a feminist, wanted a man...[In the three decades since I left the job], there have been two female critics: Marian Burros and Ruth Reichl.
Kludt: It's not just about the review or the New York Times reviewer. Pete Wells is doing the Times review, but at Food & Wine it's a team of women determining the best new chefs.
On What it Takes
Lo: You need that incredible drive and obsession. [Before opening Annisa] I was told, you don't want your own restaurant. I always ask people, "do you want your own restaurant?"
Button: A lot of women say they got "lucky" in their culinary careers—yes, but the reason we're here today has less to do with luck and more to do with hard work, passion, drive, and professionalism.
Martha Hoover, President of Patachou Restaurant Group: I opened up my first restaurant without ever having worked a day in the business. That great amount of ignorance coupled with confidence... If I hadn't done it with the fresh eyes, I wouldn't be in the business."
Jessamyn Rodriguez, Head of Hot Bread Kitchen: Good entrepreneurs are by definition unconventional. We operate two businesses under a nonprofit umbrella...We're an affirmative action organization for women and minority women to get better jobs in the culinary industry.
Preeti Mistry, Chef/Owner of Juhu Beach Club: I didn't like working at the top restaurant with the brigade. There are people who can keep their heads down and get yelled at. But I'm like, I don't have time for that. I started with a pop-up in a liquor store. It's hard to get investors when you're trying to do something no one else has done. I'm not really good at doing what other people want me to do because I want to do it my way.
Rodriguez: Why not just open a bakery? Many years ago, I interviewed for a job at Women's World Banking. I was telling a friend and he heard baking. He couldn't believe a women would work in banking. But his confusion planted an idea in my head. I never had any inclination before that to start my own business. I was only ever interested in helping immigrant women get better jobs. I had a core sense there was a market for our social programs and our breads. Eight years later I launched it.
On Self Promotion
Cohen: I'm all about over-promotion. What's the worst that can happen—you fail? I fail all the time and it's okay. The only way to succeed is to put yourself out there.
Kish: Perhaps I'm an asshole and rarely think about it in that sense, but I do what I do, whether that's putting my head down and cooking or consulting or consoling a surly little line cook, or what have you. You just do what you do and you'll be recognized.
Kludt: I have noticed in my experience that men are the ones who overwhelmingly self-promote. Aside from Amanda, it's mostly men who will reach out to me directly.
Suzanne Goin, chef of Lucques: I have to accept that I'm sometimes disappointing people. The hardest thing for me is working nights. You have to be really driven and kind of crazy. The other night, my five-year-old was sad and said to our nanny, "some kids have parents, they don't have nannies." I'm getting better at it. I've been trying to take weekends for five years. It's hard to leave home when I need to be in by 7 and they say, "no, don't go."
Gabrielle Hamilton, chef of Prune: You're tearing up on the phone because you get a call that your kid is losing his tooth and you're sautéing something in the back basement. I'm on a vacation writing away and my kids are at the beach with the nanny. The nonnegotiable-ness of it is what gets you through. Your kids have to eat and your restaurant has to be run.
Hamilton: [Responding to "is balance bullshit?] I have never lived life that way. Balance seems like something in clothing catalogues. "If I just had balance—and that robe.