A few dozen women gathered on Sunday at MiMo District kitchen design showroom Front of the House in support of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, a national organization that provides scholarships and mentorship to women in the food and beverage industry.
Noticeably absent were nearly all of their male counterparts. Edge Steak & Bar's Aaron Brooks was there along with Stanzione 87's Franco Stanzione, Dizengoff and Federal Donuts' Eric Saltzman as well as farmer Chris French. Other than that, not a single man from Miami's culinary glitterati, neither chef, nor blogger, no Instagram-addicted hanger-on was on hand.
Still, the absence didn't at all dull the excitement in the room, which was livened by bites from Val Chang of Dizengoff and Federal Donuts, Leah Jones of Alter, Adriana Egozcue of the Bookstore in the Grove, celebrity chef Lorena Garcia, Rebekah Brooks of Becky Brooks Cakes, Sasha Ullman of St. Roch Market, and Fatima Mullins of Ms. Cheezious.
The event couldn't have come at a better time as sexual harassment allegations roil industries across the country. Minnesota-based Women Chefs & Restaurateurs, which began 25 years ago, today has about 2,000 members it looks to help connect, champion, and educate, and recent news has only made the mission more urgent.
"We want to be the platform for the industry to change and shift," executive director Kristen Lee-Charlson says.
This year the organization plans to roll out a host of new initiatives tied to everything from pay parity to safe workplaces. Though Lee-Charlson was sparse on the details, a flurry of announcements is slated for the near future.
"What we're looking for are solutions," she says. "And while this conversation is going on, there are people having some success in creating the best work places possible and we want to capitalize on those best practices."
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And it soon became clear how badly they're needed.
"I'm the first female Hispanic chef on the Strip," says Lorena Garcia of Chica at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. "There are four women [-owned restaurants] on the strip in Las Vegas where there are more than 4,600 restaurants. Something needs to change."
Yet very often women, like everyone in kitchens, are put under such heavy demands there's little time for introspection and reflection. Many times, says Alter sous chef Leah Jones, such issues remain grating but can take a second seat to the work and what women what to accomplish.
"I've been in positions [where] I know I've held the same positions as a man but been paid less for the work," she says. "I feel like with what's happening now it's going to help; it's going to give women more confidence to demand that people do the right thing."