Eating is one of my absolute favorite hobbies, and I’m not alone in that. Food is such a hallmark of our culture, and it’s often the focal point of many of our parties, events, and celebrations. Given the fact that food is a basic human need, we should all be seriously thankful to those talented enough to make sure the food we eat is as delicious and as lovingly prepared as possible. I have so much respect for those who can look at a basic item of food and turn it into a masterful creation — it’s a skill that I wish I could have, one that people train for years to achieve.
As much as I love the culinary industry and the delicious food it provides, I was dismayed to recently discover that, in 2018, only 19% of chefs are female — and women make up only 7% of the population of head chefs. Even more alarming? Female chefs make, on average, 28% less in base pay than their male counterparts. These facts are both shocking and horrifying — but we can all work together to make a positive change.
We’ve teamed up with RestaurantHER, an incredible initiative devoted to recognizing inspiring women in the culinary industry, and Grubhub, the largest food delivery service in the nation. This March, we’re encouraging you to dine in or carry out from restaurants led by women.
We’re supporting women in the culinary industry by pledging to eat at and order from restaurants led by women. Visit RestaurantHER.com for an interactive map that shows women-led restaurants in your own area, then share your dining experience on social media by tagging @Grubhub and #RestaurantHER.
For every one person who pledges their support at RestaurantHER.com, Grubhub will contribute $1, up to $1 million. The first $100,000 pledged will be contributed to Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, an organization that provides resources for women seeking to advance culinary education.
We spoke with three women who are leaders in the culinary industry — as the chefs behind some of our favorite restaurants, these women are brimming with experience, anecdotes, and advice. Read on to learn more about three women who are redefining the restaurant world — and whose restaurants you’re going to want to visit ASAP.
After a childhood spent in the kitchen and summers spent working at a bustling sandwich shop in Nantucket, Erin Eastland knew from an early age that food was her passion. Now, as the Executive Chef of not just one, but TWO impressive eateries in southern California, Erin has taken her passion for food and turned it into a seriously inspiring career.
How and when did you know you wanted to be a chef?
That is a great question. My mom’s best friend owned a gourmet food store in Connecticut — when I was in high school I used to go visit her and she would take me there. And I really enjoyed being there and kinda seeing the way she would walk me through the kitchen and talk me through the stuff they did there, and I felt really at home there, and it had a big impact on me. She would teach me how to make certain dishes.
My mom was a great cook too — together, the three of us would spend a lot of time in the kitchen. That introduced me to wanting to do that. Once I worked in a sandwich shop, I really sort of knew I didn’t want to have any other jobs. I loved the hustle and team unity in the kitchen type environment. I didn’t want to be in an office, so every summer job after that was in the kitchen.
You’re the executive chef at pizzeria Milo and Olive AND over at their sister bakery and cafe, Huckleberry. Tell me about your experience working in two different kitchens.
It is challenging. But it’s really fun, and they’re so different. They’re completely different styles of cooking, set-ups of kitchen, employees… But in both cases, there’s a lot of thought that goes into the food and the food that we can do. We serve all organic, so the challenges lie in figuring out a way to make the best food available and have it not be totally crazy as far as costs go, but not cutting any corners so we can serve the kind of food we would serve to our family.
We have a huge staff at Milo — you go in and eat and you see it’s like a million people. We refer to it as a organized chaos — everybody has specific job and works together in a very small space really well. The same thing about Huckleberry when the rush comes in: it is just go, go, go. I love being able to go back and forth.
You have a lot of women that you work with in your industry. What advice do you have for women that might like to join the culinary industry?
I think for sure that this is our time. We’re stronger than ever. There are still challenges — when I post manager job descriptions, 99% of the applicants are male. I think we’re making progress and it’s awesome that so many women are getting into this industry and having real predominant roles. But there are challenges, seen just through the hiring manager’s eyes.
My sous chef at Huckleberry is a woman and she is a force to be reckoned with. My former sous chef at Milo is a great woman, too, who was with me from the beginning, in addition to my chef de cuisine who works with me at both places. Our director of baking operations at both locations and the baking sous chefs are women. We joke all the time that it’s a hen house at the office — it’s a really fun work environment. We all work really hard and we all have a high threshold of what we can deal with on a daily basis, and we just get through it because we can laugh and enjoy our time together. The unity that we have is amazing to work with. They’re a big part of why I enjoy coming into work every day — they run these restaurants, and it’s inspiring.
Co-Owner/Chef at Parachute
You may recognize Beverly Kim from her time on Top Chef, but she’s so much more than a contender on Bravo. As the co-owner of Parachute, the Chicago Korean-American restaurant she owns with her husband, Beverly is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the culinary industry. As a wife, mom, AND kickass career woman, Beverly knows the ropes when it comes to the importance of passion for what you do, balancing your many priorities, and managing a team.
Why did you want to open your own restaurant?
A couple reasons. I was looking for a restaurant my whole career that had a similar perspective to mine, a Korean-American perspective. A lot of restaurants had a very French, American, Midwestern lean. It was very difficult to find someone doing Korean food in a way that was progressive. I also wanted to open my own business because I have a son, but being a chef working for someone else, you can’t decide your own schedule — it’s just very difficult to raise a family. Last but not least, my husband is also a chef, and this was a way for us both to make our dreams come true. We share duties, so it’s become more than a lifestyle. It’s our life.
Walk us through a typical workday for you.
There is no typical workday, first of all! It depends how much help we have. Right now, my workday starts almost when I wake up. I check emails, I check what happened yesterday, and double check my schedule — there’s always something going on, whether I have an interview or a meeting with someone, so I check to make sure I don’t miss anything. From there, I sift through my emails to try to get ahead for event planning. I take care of private events for the restaurant, and I take care of our events outside for PR, so I do all the communication for that. Then I check in with my office manager, making sure the books are straight, really making sure the financials are okay. If I have time, I’ll do guest research and go through every reservation — I try to make sure that we have notes on everybody, where they’re coming from, and go through the info we have about our guests. Then I check in with my husband in the kitchen — I ask if he needs help, whether it’s help with a dish or picking something up from the market. It feels like there’s always something to be ready for! Around 1 pm, I try to head over to be on site at the restaurant. I do a lot of office work at home — I live right across the street from the restaurant. So at 1 pm I try to head in because that’s when the cooks come in, so I make sure they have everything they need.
My day really depends on how much help I have. Right now I have really good support in the morning, which is great because I work until 11 or 12 at night. If I don’t have any support, I’m up with my kids at 6:30 in the morning, but if I do have the support, I’m able to sleep in. I do still get up in the morning, though, to check in with my kids. They wake up, and we eat breakfast together and talk about school and their school day, and I help them get out the door. If I have a really good week I can work out, but then at 10:30 or 11 I get into work mode. At 5 pm we open our doors — so usually at 5:00 it’s light on the books so I go home to check in on the kids again. I try to spend even 20 minutes with them, and then I go back to work. Lately I’ve been more needed in the kitchen, helping. If the kitchen is all good, then I help out on the floor. Around 10:30, I start to do more admin work — catching up on emails, thinking about menus, thinking about changes, thinking about schedules, thinking about bigger projects. I check out with everyone around midnight, and then I go home.
There’s always something that pops up, and I just have to be available for that. It’s a little crazy, lots of multitasking. I try really hard to consolidate things to days — but it inevitably becomes crazy. I do the best I can.
What unique challenges do you feel you face as a woman in this industry?
Culturally, it really depends on the woman. I do think, for women, it is kind of a cultural thing across the board to be kind of people pleasers. It is hard to speak your mind and a little bit harder to train yourself to speak your mind without being apologetic about it or self conscious or second guessing yourself. Across the board, I think it’s just not as open as men are treated with directives. I think that’s always been sort of a challenge personally. Also, underlying jokes, underlying dismissive verbatim, whether it’s sexist jokes or — I wouldn’t say straight out harassment, but some of it is harassment that women tend to get more than men — more comments about how we look or more comments about being seen as sexual objects.
It’s kind of like racism. I’m Korean-American, and it’s not like every day someone calls me a name or tells me to go home. It’s like once a year, maybe, but when it happens it sits in your mind for so long that it just becomes a challenge. It’s so abrasive, that it does do something psychologically. It’s not every day, and it’s usually subtle, but sometimes it’s outright — women do receive outright sexist touching or inappropriate behavior, and then not knowing how to deal with it, those feelings. It doesn’t happen for every woman… but for a lot of women.
Also, as a chef , its really hard to get good night care that isn’t too expensive. Day care is a precursor to kindergarten, but ever since they’ve taken away free preschool, its really difficult to be able to get back in the game, because it’s very expensive and chefs don’t make that much money — and we spend a lot of time working and it’s usually at night. If your partner’s a working partner, you’re forcing your partner to stay at home, or you’re paying out the wazoo for a full time nanny. I would like to see more attention to that — I think that’s part of why you don’t see more chefs who are women.
I think, too, by nature, women can be sort of not as collaborative, and more competitive with each other in the kitchen — so just dismantling that and making more of a sisterhood is kind of important.
What can we all do to encourage more women to pursue careers in your field?
I don’t think there is a job as back-breaking, besides construction work, as working in a kitchen. It’s like a team sport — its very athletic, and you’re cooking on your feet 12 hours a day. I don’t think kids in general are used to that kind of hard work. I would encourage everyone, even if you don’t want to get a restaurant job, to get a restaurant job — just to appreciate it. I don’t think people appreciate the work that goes into food — and that’s why people are so cruel and so mean-spirited when they’re criticizing food online. People think it’s so easy, and they hate on service people and they take anger out on servers. There’s not enough compassion for what people do in the service industry. We need to teach our youth the hard work that goes into the restaurant business — I encourage people to get a job and see what it’s like. It’s one of the last jobs that really takes physical labor — without physical labor, you don’t have a restaurant.
Owner at Mindy’s Hot Chocolate
With a background as a pastry chef and years of experience working in some of Chicago’s best restaurants (and as the winner of the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2012!), Mindy Segal is no stranger to the importance of a vast body of experience — and the unique perspectives that come from it. For the past 13 years, she’s owned Mindy’s Hot Chocolate, a full-service restaurant, bakery, and overall hot spot in Chicago. With a cookbook under her belt and an active partnership with Cresco Labs, Mindy’s showing no signs of slowing down. Here, we chatted with her about her career, her words of wisdom, and the advice she’d give to her younger self.
Tell us about your career trajectory and what led to you wanting to open up your own restaurant.
When I was a little girl I used to play “restaurant” with my brother, so I would say it’s in my blood. I worked my way up in some really great kitchens in Chicago after I went to culinary school. I’ve been working on my craft ever since.
What makes your restaurant unique, and why are you proud of it?
Being the owner of a full-service restaurant and having the perspective through the eyes of a pastry chef is extremely rare. What makes me proud of my restaurant is 13 years, going strong, extremely loyal employees, wonderful customers, and a great neighborhood to support.
What can we all do to encourage more women to enter the culinary industry?
I cannot encourage anyone to enter the culinary industry unless they have the will and the passion to work on their craft every single day.
Additionally, what would you say to women hoping to enter the field?
My advice to any person entering the field would be to work hard, keep your head down, and don’t give up.
What advice would you go back and give your younger self?
Save money, travel, always be kind, and never burn bridges!
This post was in partnership with Grubhub, but all of the opinions within are those of The Everygirl editorial board.