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Honoring Women Chefs

Women are cracking the glass ceiling of the culinary profession. While women chefs have served the families of kings and Presidents, none have been appointed to official head chef roles at Court or the White House. The famed hotels and fine restaurants of Europe and the United States have long relied on women to staff their facilities, but few have allowed them to take the reigns. This, however, is changing.

Culinary Arts

According to a recent Washington Post story, women comprise more than half of the food service workforce; unfortunately, fewer than one in five works as a chef or head cook. To help advance the cause of talented women chefs, the culinary organization Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR) and Olivado Oil sponsored the annual Chef Quest: Celebrating Women Chefs competition.

Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Partners with Olivado Oil

The purpose of the contest, according to Olivado founder Chris Nathan, goes beyond the mere celebration of creative recipes. Speaking to Chef Magazine, Nathan said, "In addition to our commitment to good health, we want to help women chefs break the glass ceiling and advance in the culinary profession."

Case in point, this year's contest saw three American women, Ellie Basch, Angie Armenise, and Charlotte Fekete, flown out to Australia on a ten-day trip to honor their winning culinary creations.

As WCR President Helene Kennan told Chef Magazine, "Our chef members are some of the most creative in the industry and, as women, understand the balance of good taste and good health for the everyday cook."

Top Honorees: Creativity, Flair, and Accomplishment

Ellie Basch, who won in the vegetable category with a citrus salad recipe, is chef/owner of Everyday Gourmet, a catering company in Richmond, Virginia. She also heads a non-profit organization that operates a culinary school for low-income women.

As an Indonesian native, Ellie spend her formative years working in her mother's catering kitchen, mastering the ins and outs of the spices and herbs that are the hallmark of Indonesian cuisine. She came to the US to study English literature, but found herself drawn back to the culinary arts.

Angie Armenise, who captured the seafood category with a recipe for Sea Bass, fresca style, is executive chef for Pinelli Marra Restaurant Group in Providence, Rhode Island.

Angie was born and bread in Chicago, and loves big city action, food, trends and style. Her mission is to create food for people who appreciate it, to grow a little each day, and to give back in any way that she can.

Charlotte Fekete, a recent college grad, creates recipes for a culinary magazine in Lake Oconee, Florida, where she plies her trade at the Fire and Flavor Grilling Company. Fekete won with a recipe for East West steak with Jalapeno slaw.

Charlotte has spent the last year and a half creating new recipes using the products of the Fire and Flavor Grilling Company. She has even extended her recipe writing skills to a local magazine, Lake Oconee Living. A true lover of food, she strives to constantly learn more about her craft.

Women Chefs Must Bust Culinary Myths

Daniel Rogov, wine and restaurant critic for the Israeli daily HaAretz and the Israeli edition of the International Herald Tribune, laments that women face serious discrimination across the international culinary professions.

"Many men who encourage or 'allow' women to enter the kitchen," he says, "often do so only at an entry level and rarely allow them to rise to that point where they will become serious competition for themselves.

"In America," he adds, "where since the 17th century, women have traditionally been the cooks in local taverns and neighborhood restaurants, elegant cooking in fine restaurants and other exclusive kitchens has always been produced by men. In England, where since the 15th century women have traditionally been in charge of the kitchens of the homes of, Princes, Barons, Earls and Dukes, those in charge of the kitchens of Kings and Queens have been men. Not a single woman has ever been admitted into the ranks of the Royal Society of Chefs."

Rogov believes myths have to be busted. "The argument that women do not have the managerial skills to supervise a large kitchen is obviously fallacious," he says. "This can be seen by studying the increasingly large number of women who are hospital administrators, senior editors of newspapers and magazines, and corporate executives, positions that frequently require the organization and supervision of staffs far larger than those found at nearly all of the world's great restaurants."

Michelle Giroux Russell, executive chef at the Tower Oaks Lodge in Rockville, MD, told the Washington Post, "The biggest mistake men ever made was thinking they could do it without us."