Great Women Chefs Cook for a Cause

Last night at a super-fashionable gala at New York's Pier 60 gathered dozens of the country's best female chefs doing what they do best:  being supportive, generous as all get out, and cooking to their hearts content. The event was a fundraiser for SHARE -- an organization which offers free help to women facing breast and ovarian cancer.  Their mission during these last 35 years has been to give these women an opportunity to experience a "second helping of life" -- hence the 8th annual A Second Helping of Life tasting event. I was there as a celebrity "sous chef" helping out at the table of D'Artagnan -- the company that put foie gras in the mouths of every gourmand. Ariane Daguin's featured dish was a "filet mignon of duck" (the "tender" from under the duck breast), topped with a mousse of foie gras with black truffles, and drizzled with a balsamic reduction.  That was my job -- to drizzle 400 small plates of this delectable offering. It was a fabulous event with more than 20 guest chefs and lots of famous actresses, editors, cookbook authors, and TV personalities as celebrity sous chefs. What a blast it was to hang out with all these women who have made such a difference in the food world and have extended that world into such beneficent charitable work. In addition to sampling some of the most delicious bites I've had under one roof, I sampled the humility of these women who have made it big-time and just want to give back. Many of these women are also members of the organization "Les Dames d'Escoffier" whose efforts have helped women break through the glass ceiling in an industry that once exclusively belonged to men.

I was thrilled to see Gabrielle Hamilton (of Blood, Bones & Butter fame), Alex Guarnaschelli, Anne Burrell, April Bloomfield, Anita Lo, Dorie Greenspan, Sarabeth Levine, and Rosa Ross (from Scrimshaw on Long Island), to name just a few. It was lovely to re-connect with Donna Hanover (Rudy Giuliani's first wife) who became a foodie herself as co-host with David Rosengarten of Food News & Views -- one of the Food Networks first shows (and I was their first guest!).  And what fun it was to sample Rebecca Charles' Lobster Roll (from Pearl Oyster Bar), scarf down Sara Jenkins' Porchetta "slider" (from Porchetta and Porsena), sip an amazing corn soup with smoked ham hocks and corn relish (The Spotted Pig and The Breslin), Alison Awerbuch's remarkable bbq shortrib & late summer tomato shepherd's "pie in a jar" with a brown butter cornbread crumble crust (Alison is the executive chef of Abigail Kirsch catering), Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez's "Shahi Chicken with Basmati Rice," Babbo's Gina DePalma's "Sweet Olive Oil and Rosemary Cakes with Lemon Icing," and eat too many of Nancy Olson's Salted Chocolate and Peanut Butter macaroons (Gramercy Tavern.)

I hope their goal of $400,000 was reached last night. Every bite was worth it. And kudos to Melanie Young who "imagined" this event eight years ago and then made it happen in such a glorious and meaningful way. Toques off to you.

Women with Beards

There is much chatter about women in the restaurant industry or, rather, the lack of them.  Since my early days as one of the few women chefs in New York (late 1970's/early 1980's), this has been a subject that rears its head every few years.  Has the glass ceiling been shattered?  Have women earned a competitive place alongside their male peers in upscale restaurants?  Is it possible to differentiate food created by women from that of  men?   It depends who you ask, but swirling speculation and empirical evidence aside, Monday night's James Beard Awards showcased women in the brightest of lights.   A terrific article by Sumathi Reddy in the Wall Street Journal, posted moments after the awards, summed up the "women wins":  Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef of Prune (in New York's east village); Saipin Chutima of Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas (best chef Southwest), Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (best chef Southeast), Angela Pinkerton of Eleven Madison Park in New York City (outstanding pastry chef), and in the wine category, Belinda Chang of Danny Meyer's Modern (outstanding wine service).

With a note of sarcasm in her acceptance speech, Ms. Hamilton said "Wow, I didn't know you could win a Beard Award for opening a can of sardines and serving it with Triscuits."  Hmmmm.  Would a guy say that? Prune has a one-star rating from the New York Times as opposed to the numerous two and three-star offerings from the other nominees, including the very awesome April Bloomfield -- whose simple brilliance is in evidence at the Breslin, the John Dory, and the Spotted Pig daily.  But a perusal of all the restaurant and chef categories at the Awards shows some statistical shortcomings.  Out of five choices in each category, there was only one woman, Barbara Lynch of Menton in Boston, who was a nominee for Best New Restaurant.  One woman, Suzanne Goin of Lucques in Los Angeles, for Outstanding Chef Award, one woman as Rising Star Chef -- Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar, and, out of 50 nominees for regional best chefs, there were only six women* represented.  And true to the industry's norm, there were three women out of five nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef Award.

Many more women (including me) were represented at the media and book awards and there were lots of women "guest chefs" cooking for the receptions.  And there were wonderful women chefs on stage, including Traci des Jardins and Susan Feniger, and major kudos to Emily Luchetti who organized the entire outstanding event. As past president and a member (for three decades!) of the first professional organization of women in food, wine and hospitality, Les Dames d'Escoffier, I can faithfully say that we've come a long way yet still have a long way to go.   But first we must continue to celebrate the industry's extraordinary women -- for our contributions are womanfold.

*Krista Kern Desjarlais of Bresca in Portland, Maine; Maricel Presilla for Cucharamama in Hoboken, New Jersey; April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig in New York City; were nominated, three of the six won in their categories.