Traditionally men have brought home the bacon and women have cooked it, so I’ve always found it interesting that women chefs are the exception and not the rule. For the most part cooking is to women what a college degree is for most of us, an expected asset. And yet the most notable culinary school in the country, the Culinary Institute of America, didn’t admit women until 1970! For Women’s History Month, let’s take a look at my picks for the top 5 women who have been successful in this surprisingly male dominated field.
1. No list of women culinary innovators would be complete without Julia Child. A graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France, she went on to write one of, if not the most famous cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In 1963 she debuted the successful cooking show, “The French Chef.” In 1993 Child was the first woman inducted into the CIA Hall of Fame.
2. Cristeta Comerford brings a whole new meaning to the term “Executive Chef” as the first female head chef of the White House from Clinton to Obama!
3. Growing up in one of America’s meccas for foodies, it comes as little surprise that Chicago-born Stephanie Izard was the first woman to win the title for Top Chef. She is also one of the show’s most successful participants as she is going on her second restaurant at the age of 33.
4. Food radical and pioneer of the Californian Food Movement which promotes (gasp) organic, fresh, farm-to-table ingredients Alice Walker was the first woman to win the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 1992. She is also the Chef/Owner of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA since 1971.
5. Cat Cora is the first — and remains the only — female Iron Chef . She is a co-founder of Chefs for Humanity, which mobilizes chefs to raise funds and provide resources in instances of emergency. Cora is also the Executive Chef for Bon Appetit magazine and a spokesperson for UNICEF and InSinkErator.
No surprise Forbes included the First Lady on their 10 most powerful women list. Mrs. O has achieved great success combating childhood obesity with her "Let's Move" campaign. Image from Wikipedia
March is Women’s History Month and in observance Forbes released their picks for the 10 most powerful women in the world. Naturally this list included obvious choices like, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama, but what I found to be pretty cool was that #10 and #4 were both CEOs of the food industry. This is cool to me for two reasons, the first being that these international and multi-billion dollar corporations have women in charge and second it is significant that Forbes highlights companies in the food industry as powerful.
Number 10 is Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Kraft Foods which is the second largest food manufacturer in the world and has over 127,000 people on staff. Indra Nooyi comes in at number 4 and is a Chief Executive at Pepsico, the largest food and beverage company in the United States, they employ over 300,000 people and make over $60 billion in annual revenue. Is it wrong (and perhaps a little sexist) that I find it hugely comforting that women are at the helm of these highly influential food companies? It’s like they are the responsible “moms” making sure we eat right!
Another interesting member of this elite club is #5 Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Under her tenure Facebook grew from approximately 70 million users to over 750 million active users. These new “friends” include brand pages for companies like Kraft and Pepsico as well as Restaurant Facebook pages from major chains to mom and pops. Sandberg also helped Facebook figure out how utilize all that volunteered user information that is marketing gold (name, age, marital status, hobbies and a plethera of other preferences) and make a ton of money not just for Facebook, but for companies as well through highly targeted and effective advertising.
These ladies are all incredibly smart and successful and I think it’s fitting that Forbes included them on their top 10 list along with women world political leaders. Forbes recognizes that it’s not only political leadership that is able to wield power and influence in the world but also in other arenas like technology and food manufacturing. And I take off my hat to all the women on Forbes’ list and all women. Let’s take this month to not only acknowledge the great achievements of women throughout history, but keep an eye on the now and make sure that strides are still being taken towards equality because we are not quite there yet!