In honor of Women's History Month, we're showcasing the chefs, creators, and businesswomen changing the hospitality industry.
With March 8 marking International Women's Day (and the entire month being Women's History Month), we couldn't imagine a better time to highlight these stories of food and drink industry powerhouses. These women, from chefs to uni divers to winemakers, are blowing us away with their talent, innovation, and all-around creativity.
If you missed these mkgallery stories, we're compiling them here for your reading convenience.
At 4:00 a.m., the stretch of road between Austin and Leton is a solemn one, shared only with the vast horizon, an occasional 18-wheeler and travelers on a very specific mission: to taste the barbecue at , said to be some of the best in the state, and to meet the woman behind the smoker. That’s 83-year-old , known to locals, colleagues and fans as Ms. Tootsie.
The fact that Qiu has become an L.A. sensation by cooking crab and lobster with Sichuan flavors tells you a lot about who she is. The Sichuan province where Qiu spent most of her childhood is, as Jonathan Gold pointed out in his , land-locked. Sichuan cuisine is not known for seafood. The strong-willed, Chengdu-born Qiu doesn’t care.
“When I went to Shenzhen for high school, I ate a lot of Cantonese-style food,” she says. “I realized how tasty the seafood would be in Sichuan dishes.”
“There have always been women involved in the Scotch-whisky industry,” Bell says, mentioning pivotal players like Elizabeth Cumming, Rachel Barrie and Maureen Robinson. “I just think now more than ever we’re starting to shout about it a little bit more.”
For Alexis Brown and Ariel Neal, their way of giving back was born during a luncheon two years ago. Frustrated by the lack of diversity they saw in the bartending industry, the two women teamed up and launched , a nonprofit group aimed to “uplift and empower underrepresented and underserved individuals in the hospitality industry,” Neal said. Since its inception in 2016, the group has nearly 1600 members worldwide.
“I asked myself when I was younger: What could I do that wasn’t going to be monotonous? That would be limitless and could allow me to be part of my identity?” Graciela Angeles says. The answer was mezcal. “Everything you see at Mezcal Real is a puzzle of everything I got to know of Oaxaca in my years studying. I was born and raised here and have always lived in Minas, but I’ve always been connected to the outside world.”
Statistically, those who expect to find a man leading a kitchen usually find just that. Only 21.4 percent of chef positions go to women, who tend to orbit the lower-paying areas of the restaurant industry. While the numbers are trending upwards in America, recent data from the U.K. in female chefs on the other side of the pond. And although the Culinary Institute of America reported slightly higher enrollment by women this year, leadership in the nation’s kitchens won’t likely reflect that shift any time soon.
In an industry known for gender imbalance, especially in top roles, Herrera’s Toronto restaurant is unusual. Women aren’t just running the kitchen—they’re looking after the entirety of Los Colibris, from front-of-house management to marketing and events.
“I’m in so many different spaces and places, and I get to meet so many amazing women and right now, there is an uprising—in this notion of supporting each other and sharing our stories—and that in itself just motivated me,” Thomas says of the podcast. “I know so many women who are amazing and inspirational but just don’t have a platform to talk about these things—and some I’ve interviewed have humungous platforms—so I like to have that mix and share their stories as equals because everything these people do is so incredible.”
It starts at the top. Trickle-down vibes you could call it. I’ve had good managers and bad ones. Bosses who were brilliant and bosses who were batshit. Micromanagers and absent ones. I’ve learned a lot from all of them, but more often than not I’ve left knowing how I didn’t want to manage.
"Women have been in the kitchen for a long, long time, but nobody has been talking about them," she says. "We are here to stay. We’re not going anywhere. And we’re pretty bad-ass in the kitchen."
Her name is , and she’s been diving for ten years. Before that, she was a deckhand for three. This is not a story about glass ceilings, however. (And she prefers to be called a fisherman, by the way. “I don’t do anything different than any other fisherman, and I already stand out. I don’t want to do that anymore,” she says, laughing.)
Hopefully, we are finally at a moment in history when people realize this is no longer accepted behavior, that it will no longer be ignored and that we will hold ourselves and everyone around us accountable for our actions. I have heard some people groan about the magnitude of sexual harassment allegations coming out, saying that they feel this all a little "too much," but I strongly disagree. This type of behavior has been going on far too long, and I think we should listen to every single man or woman who wants to come forward and share their story. I think the best thing that has come out of all of this is that it has struck up a dialogue: a dialogue among coworkers; a conversation among company leadership about the type of work environment they promote or protect; and a conversation from parent to child or teacher to child. May it continue so we never go back to just shuffling it under the rug.
Phelisa Ntsokotha, 21, works as a front hostess at bistro nestled in the rolling hills of the scenic Western Cape, a job she landed after graduation. Ntsokotha grew up and lives in Kayamondi, a township outside of Cape Town constructed in 1950s apartheid to house black migrant laborers. Her first exposure to wine was watching people mix Coke and red wine as a child. Now, she laughs at the idea. She says her favorite wine is Cabernet Sauvignon.
“When I began my career, I never wasted much time thinking about being a woman in a traditionally male dominated business.” Instead, González Nieves focused on her passion for tequila and excellence. “I let that passion dominate my trajectory,” she says.
A restaurant culture is shaped from the top down, and is a direct reflection on who is running the show. Considering there are so few women running kitchens and owning restaurants—as a matter of fact only 6 percent—the bigger question should be how do we get more women into leadership positions to be the ones influencing this much-needed change.
For a recent Johnson and Wales event, Boyd created her third tres leches masterpiece: a white spice tres leches with hibiscus, lemongrass and red zinger sorbet that can now be found at 300 East. “I thought of my quintessentially Southern paternal grandmother and the things she loved and had on the table and one was hibiscus tea—not something people would associate with southern cooking, but that memory, and the fact that local hibiscus and lemongrass were seasonal and available, intrigued me,” Boyd says. “I made my own version of the tea with hibiscus, lemongrass, cinnamon, mint, rose hips and orange peel for a sorbet and a sauce. Tres leches ended up being the perfect vehicle to showcase the tart hibiscus.”
A year and a half later, Miry’s List is going strong—it’s in the process of getting 501(c)(3) status and has served more than 1,400 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and Kurdistan. And the touchstone event of the non-profit has become their New Arrival Supper Club: a monthly-ish event where one resettled family hosts a ticketed dinner and takes home the majority of the proceeds. (She can’t say just how much, on the record: Most of these families are on public benefits like SNAP, and these numbers could compromise that aid, she says—even though these are one-off gigs and not ongoing jobs.) The waitstaff at these events, also recently immigrated volunteers, get paid $37.50 an hour. Miry’s List takes home just 10%.
Story updated on March 8, 2019.