Cindy Hutson will mentor culinary hopefuls through a James Beard Foundation program.
Cindy Hutson will mentor culinary hopefuls through a James Beard Foundation program.
Courtesy of Cindy Hutson

James Beard Foundation Seeks to Break the Gastro Ceiling for Women

If you're a woman in the culinary field looking for the next step in your career, the James Beard Foundation is offering 22 opportunities for mentorships with some of the best restaurants in the nation through its Women in Culinary Leadership grants.

Nineteen chefs and restaurateurs throughout the country are participating in the program, including Miami restaurant owners Cindy Hutson and Stephen Starr.

The program was founded in 2012 by Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, and Rohini Dey, a Beard Foundation trustee and owner of Vermillion Restaurants in New York City and Chicago. Some thought more women were needed to fill the industry's top chef and management positions. According to Ungaro, “Women make up less than 7 percent of the head chef positions in the culinary industry. Our foundation strives to reverse this statistic with the Women in Culinary Leadership program, which has already successfully graduated six grantees from our class of 2014-2015.”

The program is open to women with a background in hospitality or the culinary arts and allows them to work with industry professionals in either six- or 12-month programs. Accepted participants receive a $500 weekly stipend for living expenses during the program, along with the ability to learn from their mentors in a real-world setting, doing everything from working on the line to managing the front of house to helping develop the restaurant's menu. In addition, the aspiring top chefs have the opportunity to cook alongside guest chefs at the James Beard House in New York City for one week. Upon completion of the program, many of the mentees are offered full-time jobs with the restaurants where they trained.

Dey, who offers mentorship opportunities at her restaurants, calls the predominantly male-driven restaurant world a "gastro ceiling" for women. "This program is about building women's operational skills, financial literacy, confidence, and networks." Surprisingly, many of the participating chefs who have offered their experience are men, including heavy hitters like John Besh (August, Domenica in New Orleans) and Stephen Starr (the Continental, Makoto, Steak 954). 

Female chefs participating in the program include April Bloomfield (Spotted Pig and John Dory Oyster Bar in New York City), Sarah Robbins (Proof on Main in Louisville, Kentucky), and Hutson (Ortanique on the Mile and the soon-to-open Zest). 

If you're interested in applying for the program, you must be at least 21 years of age and have a minimum of two years of experience in the hospitality industry. The deadline for submissions is January 20, and you must start the mentorship program by June 1. For more information, visit jamesbeard.org

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