The restaurant world is a crowded scene, and it can be hard to stand out. This is doubly true for women, who often face significant barriers to receiving the type of support and attention their work deserves. These seven women deserve to be celebrated for not only being incredible chefs, but for blazing a trail for those who come after.
At New York City’s De Maria, Adriana Urbina is bringing Venezuelan food to a whole new audience. After working in an impressive array of kitchens, including Spain’s 3-Michelin-star Martín Berasategui, she moved to the US, where she started her own pop-up and private dining company, Tepuy Dining. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, she’s also one of Food Network’s Chopped champions.
Urbina wants to use her own story to help others looking to break into the restaurant world: “I want to inspire young chefs, women and immigrants specifically, to follow their dreams of becoming a chef. It takes a lot of hard work and determination, but it is possible to share your cuisine with an audience, be successful and make a difference in the industry.” Looking at everything she’s accomplished, it would be hard not to be inspired.
When Mashama Bailey first left her position as sous chef at NYC institution Prune to open a new restaurant in Savannah, no one knew what to expect. But the Grey, housed inside a former Greyhound bus station, has surpassed everyone’s wildest expectations. Named Eater’s Restaurant of the Year in 2017, the combination of impeccable style and innovative, wildly delicious food has been impossible for diners to resist.
READ MORE: How the Grey turned the Savannah restaurant scene on its head.
This year, Bailey was nominated for Best Chef at the James Beard awards, the first black woman to receive a nod in the category. While she didn’t win this year, she has paved the way for future chefs to make similar waves. And for Bailey, there’s always next year.
The best word to describe Seattle’s Renee Erickson might be “prolific.” She runs six restaurants, all of which celebrate the fresh ingredients of the Pacific Northwest, particularly the amazing seafood. They range from Bar Melusine, a French-inspired seafood spot, to the General Porpoise doughnut shop. In her spare time, Erickson writes cookbooks and picks up serious accolades, like her 2016 James Beard award for Best Chef: Northwest for her work at the Whale Wins.
There’s an old wives tale that women can’t be sushi chefs because their hands are too warm to handle the delicate fish. Don’t tell that to Lori Hashimoto, chef and co-owner of Phoenix’s Hana Japanese Eatery. The restaurant is a family business, and Hashimoto works alongside her brother and stepfather to bring the city some of the freshest, most authentic sushi possible.
As a third-generation Japanese-American who grew up in Arizona, Hashimoto prides herself and her family in keeping traditional Japanese cuisine alive without capitulating to trends or gimmicks. Just fresh fish, perfectly prepared by a woman with the right hands for the job.
“I came out of my mother's womb with tongs in one hand and spatula in the other,” says Denver’s Elise Wiggins. “I always knew that I wanted to be a chef.” She’s spent the last 20 years honing her craft across the world, from Dallas to Puerto Rico to Italy.
It was Italy that inspired her new restaurant, Cattivella, where she highlights traditional dishes that go far beyond the typical offerings. As the sole owner, Wiggins is able to run her restaurant exactly how she wants, which means creating a welcoming environment for both guests and staff. “I want my entire team to connect with our guests as if they are family. I strongly feel that this is where a lot of restaurants miss the mark. They provide great food but the personal connection is so formal that it loses the ability to connect.” Her own experiences as a woman in the industry have influenced her as well: “I think because so many of us women were harassed coming up in the business, we instinctively provide an environment where everyone is safe from any kind of harassment whether you are a female, male, gay or straight.”
Nina Compton has been busy since her stint on Top Chef, opening two critically acclaimed restaurants in New Orleans, as well as being named one of Food & Wine’s best new chefs of 2017 and winning Best Chef: South at the 2018 James Beard Awards.
The Saint Lucia-born chef has been a pioneer in bringing Caribbean cuisine to a wider audience; her first restaurant, Compère Lapin, is a blend of New Orleans’ own cuisine with her own island background. Bywater American Bistro, which opened this year, focuses on American food “as it is right now,” meaning that its dishes run the gamut from spaghetti pomodoro to rabbit curry. Her menus may be eclectic, but one thing is certain: whatever Compton does next, it’s going to be delicious.
When a chef opens a successful restaurant at 19, you know you’re looking at something special. Sam Carroll, a Louisiana native, opened her first restaurant, Hot Tails, in New Roads, Louisiana, and followed it up with the award-winning New Orleans spot Sac-a-Lait. Both feature her hyper-local, regional cooking style, which incorporates ingredients from her own nearby farm. Carroll is also the star of Food Network’s “Cajun Aces,” which follows her and her husband as they explore Cajun culture and cuisine. And as if that wasn’t enough, she’s also a mother and a fierce advocate for other women in the industry, participating in events like panel discussions on how to empower female chefs.