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Initially, I called on the women behind these seven extraordinary restaurants a little sheepishly. Do we really need one more tokenizing roundup of “badass” female restaurant owners and chefs, when many elbowed their way to the table with the sole aim of being judged on their abilities, without asterisks or qualifiers?
But as the conversations unfolded, I forgot about that and instead basked in the weight of their achievements—sometimes because or in spite of their gender, though just as often not. I saw the intentional and unforeseen ways being women—and mothers—informs running a business and impacts workplace culture. I absorbed the parallel journeys of Chicanas like Dominica Rice-Cisneros and Black women like Mashama Bailey to internalize the significance of their culinary heritages in an industry that long prized Eurocentric haute cuisine.
As Monteverde executive chef-owner Sarah Grueneberg mused: “For so long, [co-owner] Meg [Sahs] and I weren’t really shouting about being a women-run restaurant—we were fighting that ‘cute’ stigma and wanted to just be considered real business leaders and restaurateurs. But I’m so proud. I wouldn't be the same chef if I was male—how I cook and how I think about the history and heart of a dish.”
Many of these women arrived on the shoulders of women mentors before them, be they Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters or Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray of London’s legendary River Cafe or the matriarchs of their home kitchens. Seeing someone like them calling the shots mattered as much then as now. Since a deadly pandemic laid bare the systemic cruelty of an industry that too often puts profits before people, it’s essential to champion those doing it the right way. So let’s celebrate these chefs, small business owners, mentors, activists and educators, who might not be so if they weren’t women, too.
Just don’t expect to see the word “badass” again.