Many will tell you, the food industry is not for the faint of heart (or stomach, nose, tongue, etc.).
It’s an incredibly tough career to get into, and with men holding the highest paid and most prominent kitchen jobs at top restaurants across America, it can be a tougher career for women. During Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation Chicago, I caught up with top female mixologists and chefs who have pushed hard to show how men and women can dish it out.
More than 85 of Chicago’s top chefs and mixologists attended Taste of the Nation Chicago, all in support of the fight to end childhood hunger in Illinois and across America. The Navy Pier Ballroom was filled with an array of delicious food and charitable people.
Bridget Albert, Southern Wine & Spirits – USBG National Charity Foundation – President, said that she finds the event important because she’s a mother of a 10-year-old girl.
“We should never have an issue with childhood hunger. It’s not right… if you think that a dollar is 10 meals to a kid, a little bit goes a long way. Just open your heart, look what’s going on around you, it doesn’t take much to help.”
Speaking with Albert, it wasn’t hard to notice that around her at the mixology table, placed within the center of the event, were many talented women concocting incredible drinks.
Albert nodded that food and drink is seen as a male-dominated industry, but nonetheless she was confident going into it as a mixologist.
“I have a unique background. I come from a long line of bartenders. My grandmother was a bartender, her mother, her mother’s mother, my great great great aunt… They owned a bar in a coal mining town at a time when women were not even allowed to be in a bar… It’s in my blood and all that I know.”
She added that as far as being a mixologist or any other career in food and drink, one should approach it “as a non-issue.”
“You just have to do it, and do the best damn job you can do. That’s what my grandmother told me to do and she is still around. She’s 99 and it’s the best advice I have ever received.”
Other female mixologists and chefs at the event agreed with Albert.
“Us ladies like to stick together and support each other and there is something to be said for that,” Sonja Kassebaum, co-owner of North Shore Distillery, said. “We’re building a sense of community and working together and working with the men too. So it isn’t about not working with them. It’s about collaborating with everyone, being inclusive and supporting each other.”
Kassebaum added that events like Taste of the Nation Chicago is a great example of collaboration as it allows many talents within the food industry to get together.
One notable female talent was Stephanie Izard, the first female winner of Top Chef and co-owner and Executive Chef of Girl & the Goat and Little Goat.
Izard said that at events like Taste of the Nation Chicago, the simple act of making food (if we can call it that when it’s Izard cooking) can go a long way if it is raising money to end childhood hunger in the United States.
“All we are doing is cooking food…. Chefs can just do what we do and help raise money so we’re really luck in that way. And we get to escape our restaurants for the night, get to see all of our chef friends so it is just an amazing night.”
Izard noted that she’s aware how her historic win on Top Chef has affected other women who want to be a part of the food industry, and could one day attend collaborative events such as Taste of the Nation.
“It’s all about being a part of the chef community but at the same time being on Top Chef, I got to help influence some young women to go to culinary school. If I was able to help encourage women… that’s fantastic.”
Izard said the chefs who influenced her have been Mario Batali, Julia Child, and most recently Michelle Bernstein.
Of those chefs, Child has a quote that rings true today for women in the food industry. One that Albert’s grandmother also taught her, and apparently is being applied time and time again.
“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”