“It's better to be interesting than to be perfect.” - Christina Tosi
In the restaurant industry as well as the outside world, this has been a year of women taking care of women. Over the past several months, many chefs have shared their personal stories of sexual harassment and assault within the workplace. Their bravery has begun to change industry culture, encouraging more and more chefs to talk about their own experiences as women in the kitchen.
On International Women’s Day, we decided to ask 21 of the country’s most inspiring female chefs about the advice they would give to the next generation.
Here’s what they had to say:
Nina Compton: "The best advice I can give – and this is something I live by – is that instead of seeing yourself as a woman in the kitchen, you have to see yourself as a chef. That way, you always come across as an equal."
Mashama Bailey: "Don't forget about yourself. Secure your support systems in order to pursue your dreams!"
Elise Kornack: "Don't let being a woman define how others see you. So often people ask what it is like to be a female chef verse what it is like to simply be a chef. Our gender is often added before our titles to differentiate us from men. Instead, I feel we need to allow or work be what distinguishes us from our male counterparts. We do experience the world differently then men, and each of us experiences the world differently from one another, but that is only one part of what identifies our perspective. Focus your energy on finding your voice, polish the message and have that be what stands before your title, not your gender."
Preeti Mistry: "Be yourself and don't try to fit into whatever predominant male culture, beliefs or styles of cooking that others put more value on. Don't self-censor for male fragility and not voice your thoughts, opinions, etc. Trust your gut, it is right on."
Tanya Holland: "Find balance in work and life. Stay true to yourself and hold your vision tight."
Julia Turshen: "Know your worth and don't be afraid to ask people to invest in you."
Anita Lo: "Never settle."
Traci Des Jardins: "Take no prisoners. Now is our time to shine, to set a different standard, and to own all of the incredible talent that is possessed by so many women in our industry. We have this moment to make our talents more acknowledged, not for the sameness as the men, but for the differences."
Naomi Pomeroy: "Really follow your heart. Don’t do projects or evolve yourself in something you don’t believe in. Make sure that going to work every day makes you feel good. With how crazy the industry is, the job needs to feel passionate and fulfilling in order to not zap you."
Mary Sue Milliken: "Never underestimate the value of your balanced perspective to the food and hospitality industry and the craft of nourishing souls."
Susan Feniger: "Being in this field you are faced with stress, chaos, and intensity on every level – including working crazy hours, long days, holidays, and weekends. I have always felt that one has to find their passion. Stay focused and be particular about who you work for. Look for an environment where the atmosphere is respectful, promotes learning, and the eye is on quality. If after a 14-hour day you are still inspired, then you are on right path."
Nicole Krasinski: "Cultivate both strength and flexibility. They are not mutually exclusive, rather key factors in working with a variety of different personalities."
Fatima Ali: "Support each other and build each other up. We will only make it further in the industry with encouragement from other female chefs."
Christina Tosi: "Take risks, trust yourself, and don't overthink it! I learn so much more from failure than I do from success. If you can dream it, you can do it. Listen to your gut, but don't be afraid to color outside the lines and use BIG flavors or crazy combos. It's better to be interesting than to be perfect. And take CREDIT for your work!"
Angie Rito: "My advice to the next generation of female chefs is this: Believe in yourself and what you want to achieve, and don’t be afraid to do the work that’s necessary to go out and achieve it. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like there’s anything you cannot do."
Camille Becerra: "Know your worth, collaborate as much as possible and learn to cook using your senses, always be touching, listening, smelling and tasting throughout the process."
Jessica Largey: "Find good mentors. People who believe in you, teach you and offer you mutual respect in the workplace. Invest yourself in this job, that you love but don’t lose sight of who you are outside of it. Be mindful of finding work-life balance, it may be the hardest part of being a chef, but it’s not impossible."
Stephanie Izard: "My advice for the next generation of chefs would be to find chefs that they find inspiring and want to work for, and to stage at as many of those restaurants as possible."
Ashley Christensen: "Take the time to find your voice in food. It's great to be open to the inspiration and advice of others, but give yourself the space to explore and define your stance and story and perspective. Once you find it, value it. Believe in the power of using your voice in the place where you work."
Sara Moulton: "I’m with Mashama [Bailey], who believes that you learn something new every day."
: "Always be kind. I've found that kindness goes a long way in this industry. Overall, it creates a positive environment where your employees thrive, which sets a tone throughout the whole restaurant. It makes everyone want to be there, and at the end of the day this shows in the food. Just don't let anyone mistake your kindness for weakness."
For more on International Women’s Day, check out these stories.