Once upon a time, restaurant kitchens and wine cellars were the sole domain of men. Women were relegated to “pink jobs,” i.e. waitresses and hostesses. The glass ceiling has definitely been broken and the second-largest industry in America is benefiting from the feminine touch.
Two years ago, Time magazine created a firestorm of sorts when its cover story, The Gods of Food, touted the most influential food people in the world. Among the heralded were Yotton Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini (Jerusalem-based cookbook authors); Sergio Nunez de Arco (the man behind making quinoa a household name); Michael Pollan (sustainable-food movement); Dan Barber (champion of kale); Andrea Petrini (Paris-based food critic); True World Foods (a food company); and Wan Long (chairman of the largest meat-processing company in China). A trio of chefs was also on the list: David Chang (United States), René Redzepi (Denmark) and Alex Atala (Brazil). The women on the list included Aida Battle (the queen of coffee); Vandana Shiva (a physicist who is leading the charge against genetically modified food); and Ertharin Cousin (the head of the United Nations’ World Food Programme).
Women in the restaurant industry felt the list didn’t convey the strides they have made over the last few decades. Think about it: Back in the 60s and 70s, the only woman making culinary news was Julia Child. Then came Alice Waters, who was at the forefront of the eat local movement.
The popularity of the Food Network and the Cooking Channel helped to elevate the industry’s view of women – thanks to names such as Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Giada De Laurentiis, Paula Deen, Ina Garten, Nigella Lawson, Ree Drummond, Gina Neely, Nancy Fuller, Ching-He Huang and Anne Burrell – and inspire a new generation to choose career paths that would take them to new levels in the industry. Actresses and entertainers such as Trisha Yearwood, Valerie Bertinelli, Tiffani Thiessen, Haylie Duff and Kimberly Schlapman are also taking their cooking talents to the small screen.
Women now hold top positions in some of the country’s largest restaurant chains. Among them are Kat Cole at Cinnabon; Irene Cook and Elizabeth Dunlap at Panera; Frances Allen at Jack in the Box; Janice Fields at McDonald’s USA; Cheryl Bachelder at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen; and Sally Smith at Buffalo Wild Wings. And, the most influential address in the world – 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – has a woman at the helm of its kitchen. Cristeta Comerford, who has been the executive chef at the White House since 2005, is not only the first woman to hold that title, but she is also the first Asian-American to do so.
Such role models have helped to transform the industry. More than 50% of the restaurants in the United States are now owned by women. Overall, women make up 52% of the workforce in American restaurants (alas, only 19% are employed as chefs, but on a brighter note, second- and third-tier positions in the kitchen are being increasingly filled by women).
Female enrollment in culinary schools is at an all-time high (nearly 40% of students at the Culinary Institute of America are women). Bill Scepansky, who authors the column Bill of Fare in this magazine, confirms that enrollment figures began shifting about 30 years ago. After working in the industry for 10 years, Bill earned his credentials from the Culinary Institute of America in the mid-90s. He notes that by then, change was definitely in the air, as the student body included a “good mix” of women. But, what surprised him the most was the fact that a bit of the “old guard” of male instructors had been replaced by a new breed that included a “fair amount of female instructors.”
Bill says he has never regarded women as the competition but rather as role models, mentors and friends. “Kitchens are certainly a better place for it,” he says of the arrival of women. “I’ve brushed elbows with pioneers such as Julia Child, Daisy Martinez and Alice Waters, and I’ve worked for some everyday heroes such as Claire Winslow of the Would Restaurant in Highland, New York. Without them, I would be in a very different place, as would many other chefs.”
Part of the allure is being fueled by the industry itself, as more and more restaurants are increasing wages, providing benefits, and instituting no-tolerance rules for issues such as sexual harassment. According to Dawn Sweeney, the president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, “Restaurant jobs, like no other sector, provide opportunities to women of all backgrounds and experience levels. Our industry helps women gain the experience that’s needed to jumpstart careers or advance toward management or executive positions more quickly than most other industries.”
Lancaster is following suit. Increasing numbers of women are operating their own food-oriented businesses. We’d like to introduce you to five of them (click on their names to meet them). The first is Athena Fournaris, who might be considered the grande dame of Lancaster’s restaurant scene. After we photographed Athena, she asked if Kate and I would like something to eat. We assured her we were fine. “But you’re in my house,” she said, referring to the Stockyard Inn. “You must eat something.” The “something” started with salad, continued with crabcakes and ended with cheesecake.
As we lunched, Athena told us about her latest adventure. Curious about the goings on at the Lancaster Country Club, she bought tickets for the U.S. Open and walked the entire course on Sunday with her son Jim. “I don’t play golf, but I wanted to see what it was all about,” she explains. “It was very exciting.” Athena is grateful that the never-ending roadwork that impacted business is coming to a close. “All the tables in the bar are reserved for Saturday night!” she gleefully reported.
I’ve known Kristen Hottenstein for what seems like forever and have watched her grow from a teenager into a self-assured young woman. She now heads the wine program at the family-owned Greenfield Restaurant and Bar, which is annually cited as a Wine Spectator award winner. If you haven’t dined at The Greenfield recently, you’re in for a treat. The main floor has been completely redecorated in a style that is reminiscent of a country inn with a modern twist. “We’re not quite finished,” Kristen says of their plan to decorate the walls with large-scale photographs of the farmers her brother, Chef Rafe Hottenstein, relies on for fresh produce and other products.
I met Stephanie Samuel and Hilary Mace at this year’s Gourmet Gala and came away impressed. Both utilize the East Side Community Kitchen to prepare their specialties. Stephanie is the owner of Sugar Whipped Bakery. She relies on natural ingredients to prepare her cupcakes, which are simply delicious (especially the lavender cupcakes)! Stephanie operates her business out of a food truck and caters everything from weddings to corporate events. She is also a fixture at the farmers markets in Lititz and Musser Park. Three children keep her busy, but she’s dreaming of opening her own storefront someday. In the meantime, she’s collaborating with Coop’s Scoops to create whoopie pies.
Hilary, on the other hand, is in the midst of evolving her catering company, The Scarlet Runner. A storefront is on target to open early next year (if not sooner). The company specializes in homegrown goodness, the ingredients for which come courtesy of area farms, including Sugar Mountain Farms in Washington Boro, which is owned by her sister and brother-in-law. Hilary’s food is scrumptious. She not only specializes in weddings and other events, but on occasion, she hosts pop-up dinners for her devoted fans.
Finally, we have Corinna Killian, who leads the kitchen at the Belvedere Inn. “I’m an Aires,” she jokes, “so, I don’t have a problem with giving orders.” Like many young Lancastrians, Corinna left the nest to explore her options. Her travels took her to Arizona, where she worked her way through culinary school. And, like many, she discovered that there’s no place like home. The Belvedere was her only choice for employment, and owner Dean Oberholtzer is proud to have her leading his kitchen staff.