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Blog Working Women

7 Women in the Restaurant Industry We’re Thankful For

The women behind the best bites in America

Cara Hutto
Contributor

different types of food

I’ve always thought it was funny that, historically, women were expected to stay home and take care of the children and home—which usually meant spending hours in the kitchen. Despite that, the restaurant industry, which from an experience standpoint should be women’s bread and butter, has traditionally been dominated by men. White men.

However, the tides might be turning. The James Beard Award Foundation received praise last year for finally recognizing the multitudes of women and people of color who have shaped the best restaurants in America. These are the people who have chased their passions and given their blood, sweat, and tears, all so that others can enjoy their work and creativity. It’s time that they are shown the recognition and respect that they deserve. 

Here are seven women who are absolutely killing it in the restaurant industry:

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1. Ashley Christensen

Poole’s Diner, Death & Taxes, Fox Liquor Bar, Chuck’s, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Poole’Side Pies. Yup, those are all of the restaurants Raleigh, North Carolina-based restaurant mogul Ashley Christensen owns. She’s won James Beard Foundation awards for Best Chef Southeast in 2014 and 2017 and for Outstanding Chef in 2019. What does she attribute her love for cooking to? The dinner parties she used to throw for her friends and family in college. When she’s not hard at work in the kitchen, she’s fighting for women’s rights—she’s written several columns about sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. 

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2. Nina Compton

Award-winning Saint Lucian chef Nina Compton started her culinary career at esteemed New York restaurant Daniel. After working alongside chef Daniel Boulud, Compton continued to work with the crème de la crème of the restaurant world. In 2015, she opened her own Carribean-style restaurant, Compère Lapin, in the heart of New Orleans, Louisiana, which has received ample accolades. Compton’s brainchild restaurant focuses on feeding souls to create memories, not shock value. She’s struck the perfect balance between her Carribean roots, classical French training, love for Italian food, and respect for New Orleans’ traditional cuisine. In 2018, she won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the South. 

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3. Missy Robbins

Roasted trumpet mushrooms with arugula, balsamic, and sicilian almonds. Grilled blowfish tails, lemon salmoriglio, and cracked coriander. Sheep’s milk cheese filled agnolotti pasta, saffron, dried tomato, and honey. Those are just a few mouthwatering samples from Missy Robbins’ menu at Lilia in Brooklyn, New York. After working under several notable chefs in the U.S., Robbins traveled to Northern Italy, where she worked in all types of kitchens, from family-run trattorias in Tuscany to the two Michelin-starred Agli Amici in Udine. Her experience sparked a permanent passion for Italian cuisine and led her to create Lilia in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, which has subsequently earned three stars from The New York Times, and for her, a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in NYC. 

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4. Kelly Fields

Kelly Fields grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, running after her mother in their garden and helping her pickle and preserve their homegrown produce when her legs grew tired. Her love for food led her to pursue a degree in baking and pastry arts from Johnson & Wales University, and afterward, she moved to New Orleans to work as a pastry chef. When Hurricane Katrina forced her to relocate, she decided to travel around Europe, the Middle East, and the Asian Pacific to work with an array of chefs from different backgrounds. After returning to the states, Fields accomplished her lifelong dream of opening a restaurant and bakery—Willa Jean in New Orleans. FIelds’ hard work earned her a James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef, and as if she wasn’t already impressive enough, she founded the Yes Ma'am Foundation to inspire and mentor the future generation of women in the restaurant and hospitality industries. 

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5. Caroline Styne

Architecture over aroma. Papier-mâché over pinot noir. Caroline Styne never planned on having a career in the food and beverage arena. She studied to be a professional in the art world, but a meeting with her future business partner, Suzanne Goin, changed her path completely. Their first restaurant together, Lucques, opened in 1998 in Los Angeles, and has received high praise ever since. They’ve subsequently opened three other restaurants—a.o.c., Tavern, and The Larder at Maple Drive. Serving as a renowned sommelier and wine director at most of the restaurants, Styne has specialized in curating acclaimed wine programs at all of her ventures. In 2018, she won the much-coveted James Beard Foundation Award for Restaurateur of the Year. 

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6. Dominique Crenn

Watch any chef show on TV and you’ll probably witness a ruthless executive chef running a tight ship, yelling at any cook who doesn’t carry their weight. Dominique Crenn definitely runs a tight ship, but she makes sure her staff know they’re respected and cared for. Crenn is currently the only female chef in America to hold four Michelin stars (yasss, queen)—three for her restaurant Atelier Crenn, and one for her wine bar, Bar Crenn, both in San Francisco. She was adopted in France, grew up cooking and eating at high-profile restaurants with her parents, and worked in well-respected kitchens all over the world. Crenn defines herself as an artist rather than a chef and calls her work, “poetic culinaria.” Her ingenuity landed her the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the West in 2018.

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7. Ann Kim

While Ann Kim was studying English at Columbia University, she traversed New York’s famed pizza scene, trying every pie in her path. Although she credits her love for cooking to helping her grandmother make traditional Korean staples like kimchi and fermented bean paste, all of those days chomping down cheesy slices inspired her dream of bringing great pizza to Minnesota one day. After years of working as a freelance actor, her strong will finally led her to open her first restaurant, Pizzeria Lola, an artisan wood-fired pizzeria in Minneapolis. After a great deal of positive feedback, Kim opened two more restaurants, Hello Pizza, an East Coast-inspired pizza shop, and Young Joni, a globally influenced restaurant with a speakeasy back bar and eclectic wood-fired menu. In 2019, Ann received the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef Midwest.

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