Eat and Drink 15 NYC women who are changing the food & beverage industry By GEORGIA KRAL & MELISSA KRAVITZ Updated March 16, 2015 12:03 PM Print Share fbShare Tweet Email Women in food is a constantly discussed topic in certain circles, but like in other industries before it, women are taking over and the conversation is moving from niche to mainstream. Indeed, all over New York City female chefs, sommeliers and butchers are taking lead roles in kitchens and food establishments, and are experiencing greater gender equality firsthand. The "boy's club" is disappearing. There are a number of female celebrity chefs working in NYC that we know and love, from Alex Guarnaschelli to Amanda Freitag. Then there are the chefs/owners who have made a name for themselves with their restaurants, including Anita Lo (Annisa) and Gabrielle Hamilton (Prune.) We wanted to shine a light on up and comers in New York City kitchens who are plying their trade everyday, some on the line and some pouring wine. These rising stars are worth getting to know. Dianna Daoheung, Head Baker at Black Seed Bagels Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL When people think of Black Seed Bagels, they most often think of the owners -- Noah Bernamoff (Mile End) and Matt Kliegman (the Smile). But the person that should come to mind is head baker and woman-in-charge Dianna Daoheung.> Those coveted Montreal meets New York-style bagels that are now considered among the city's best? That's her recipe "from the ground up." She's the one there everyday: rolling, boiling and baking the bagels. The wood fired oven is (basically) her best friend. Daoheung, 32, is first-generation Thai, and so cooking came early. "You're 5 years old and female, you should start cooking" is basically how it went, she said. And so while she expected a tough go in the industry, with those in it underpaid and overworked, she knew it was for her. Especially on that one day almost two years ago. It was Chef Wiley Dufresne's (Alder, wd-50 RIP) birthday, and the Mile End commissary kitchen in Red Hook was preparing a birthday party. "I was cooking beef hearts on an outdoor grill and Anthony Bourdain pulls up. I thought, 'Holy shit I could do this for my life!'" Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL Daoheung, who spent time at Mile End and Isa in Brooklyn and then at Boulevard in San Francisco before opening Black Seed, said she knew what she was getting into by entering what is considered a male-dominated realm. She felt the need to prove herself, and to try and "be one of the homies." "There is a general dude humor in the kitchen where if you're not used to it, it's crude," she said. [You just need to say] "Pretend I'm your sister. Would you say that to your mother?" But while there are also a lot more women in kitchens now, she said, old stereotypes can pop up from time to time. "There's that boundary of when you're angry you're a bitch. When you're assertive it's that time of the month." Daoheung embraces it. "For me, if they're gonna think that," she said. "Whatever." And she has clearly proven herself with that attitude. She's in charge, and Black Seed is expanding at a clip. The next location in the East Village should open by the end of May. --GK Angela Dimayuga, Executive Chef at Mission Chinese Food NY Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL To be Danny Bowien's creative partner and foil is to be at the zenith of adventurous cooking and buzzworthy restaurants in NYC. And that's just where Angela Dimayuga is right now. Dimayuga, 29, has been at Mission Chinese Food NY since it opened in NYC in May, 2012, and in fact worked with Bowien on the concept and recipes for five months previous. "Anything Mission Chinese did in NYC, I did," she said proudly. Dimayuga is a first-generation Filipino from San Jose, California. In her family, food was important. It was cooked and eaten communally, and that has influenced her in ways both personal and professional. "I love that aspect of a restaurant," she said. "You can create your own community." When building MCF with Bowien, Dimayuga said her role as a "woman in charge" influenced discussions about the type of community they wanted at the restaurant. Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL "I'm in an industry where it's more powerful to be a male chef than a female chef. Some places are more dude-like. People talk about [insert crude joke]. It was something that was consciously decided...That's not what we wanted," she said. But Dimayuga, who previously cooked at Vinegar Hill House in Brooklyn for three years and did not go to culinary school, says her unwavering belief in herself is what has taken her this far in her career. "I was born with this confidence... An air of this is something I can do...If I want something, that gives me enough confidence to get it," she said. For now, Dimayuga is thriving where she is. The new Mission Chinese Food NY has only been open for a couple of months, and she is hard at work. "A lot of my dreams have been fulfilled almost prematurely," she said, her eyes bright and popping thanks to blue eyeliner. "I feel really present here." --GK Ann Redding, Co-owner/ Co-chef at Uncle Boons Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL Ann Redding opened Uncle Boons with her husband in NoLita two years ago. The business is going well and soon they will embark on a new venture, the details of which could not be divulged to this reporter. But for Redding, 39, perhaps it isn't too surprising that life is food and food is life. "My dad the hippie asked me, 'What makes you happiest?' It was always food," she said one recent morning at Uncle Boons. Like many chefs, Redding grew up around food. Her mother is Thai and one of six daughters. They were all food vendors. Redding's grandmother had a vegetable farm in Thailand. "It's the family curse," she said with a laugh. While home cooking may traditionally be associated with women, restaurant cooking has until recently been male dominated. Redding has seen it. After attending the Institute for Culinary Education, she completed an externship at Daniel, where she was one of two women in a large kitchen. That number has gone up a lot in recent years, she said. Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL She has also had gender stereotypes applied to her. "When people meet my husband and I they think he's the chef and I'm the pastry chef," she said. Redding met Matt Danzer when they were both cooking in what is widely considered one of the best kitchens, if not the best, in New York City: Per Se. Before Uncle Boons, they ran a market and restaurant on Shelter Island. Perhaps one pro to being a woman in the kitchen is what Redding equates to being like a "little sister." "They [male chefs] didn't think I was after their job," she said. But Redding thinks the most pressing issue for women in food is the same issue as on other industries: equal pay. "Pay equality isn't there," she said, adding that she knew her husband made more than she did when they both worked at Per Se. --GK Suzanne Cupps, Sous Chef at Gramercy Tavern, Untitled Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL South Caroline-raised Suzanne Cupps has cooked in some of the best kitchens in NYC. After training at the Institute of Culinary Education, she completed an externship with Tom Colicchio, worked at Annisa for five years and then landed at Gramercy Tavern where she is currently Sous Chef.> As a woman in the industry, especially in management positions, Cupps, 34, has had to consider her tact and way of dealing with co-workers. "I've had to think about my approach," she said. "Males sometimes have a different way of communicating, and not getting as emotional." Whatever her strategy, it has paid off. Thanks also to her culinary skills, Cupps has been promoted to the position of Chef de Cuisine at Danny Meyer's new restaurant Untitled, set to open on May 1 at the new Whitney Museum at the High Line. Not surprisingly, farm-to-table and seasonal cooking is a passion for Cupps. She says she is excited to bring that same sensibility to Untitled. When asked how the restaurants will be different, she said Untitled would have a "more contemporary approach," to match what was happening inside the museum. It will feature an open kitchen and lots of glass. Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL As in most fields, picking the restaurant you want to work in has as much to do with the cooking as it does with the community of chefs and employees. Cupps credits the culture at Gramercy Tavern, as well as at Annisa, with the fact that she has not faced the kind of obstacles or sexism that other female chefs have. It's very important to pick the restaurant that you feel comfortable in," she said. "A kitchen can be very competitive and in some kitchens you can be put down often. But that's not the atmosphere here." --GK Amanda Smeltz, Wine Director at Roberta's and Blanca Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ "I was a philosophy major in college [and] unless you're going to become an academic that work is pro bono. I needed a way to make money," Amanda Smeltz, current wine director at Roberta's and Blanca said. She started working front of house positions in college and soon began to apprentice with the owner of a fine dining restaurant when she was 20. Learning wines and working as a cellar hand helped grow her interest and passion in wine, and her career grew from there. Smeltz had plenty of apprehensions about pursuing a carer in wine. "There's a perception that wine is really bourgie, for people with money and European tastes or old guys in blazers," she said. "When you don't see people who look like you in a particular line of work you wonder if this is really the place for you." While Smeltz has encountered plenty of old guys in blazers during her decade working in wine, a passion and curiosity about wine overrode any doubts. She's recently noticed more younger people and women working in the wine industry. At Roberta's, she has an all female wine team and tries to work with female business owners and winemakers. She notes that it's more difficult to find female buyers than distributors, but certainly seeks them out. "I love female business owners and I really like working with women," she said. "It's enjoyable for me!" Smeltz's male colleagues recognize her competency and talents, but she knows that in the wine industry the highest paid jobs are held by men. A while back, a well-known wine director was eating in the restaurant and complimented her carrying a tray of glasses. "He had no idea I was the wine director of my restaurant," she recalled. "It was bizarre and flirtatiously calling me out. The assumption was that because I was in a t-shirt and only five [foot] two [inches] I couldn't be someone of note, but I'm his peer!" For women who want to break into the food and wine industry, Smeltz advises never taking no for an answer and not selling yourself short. "Tell people what you're worth," she advises. "You can't wait for them to tell you. Many women don't advocate for how valuable their skills are, and that can be uncomfortable, but important." There's some pro bono philosophy for you. --MK Esther Choi, Head Chef and Owner at Mokbar Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ After graduating from pharmacy school with a degree in psychology, Esther Choi, 29, wasn't ready to give up years of working in the food industry as a side job. While she knew her parents wouldn't be a hundred percent behind her decision to pursue a cooking career, she felt like she was "meant to cook and be around food always" and enrolled in culinary school without hesitation. Years older than most of her classmates, Choi was determined to work twice as hard and learn faster to accommodate for lost time. The first kitchen that Choi ever worked in she was the only girl on the line, but it helped her "be more determined and focused," knowing people saw her as a rarity. "It was about being strong and putting the male chef in their place. You have to be humble to learn more," she says working under male bosses. Small in stature, Choi acknowledges that men in the kitchen often tower over her but she makes her presence known with her brains. Being detail oriented makes her stand out from many male colleagues, seeing cooking and dishes in a different way. Now, her sous chef is also a Korean woman, and they collaborate well. Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ Choi opened MokBar in Chelsea Market in 2014 after years of aspiring to own a restaurant. Inspired by her Korean culture and background, Choi remembers learning to cook with her grandmother. "I grew up with Korean food and that's my comfort. I wasn't sure what I wanted in my own place, but I realized these space was perfect for a noodle bar," she said. Choi's goal is to spread enjoyment of Korean cuisine and she believed that noodles were a good gateway food. Plenty of international travelers stop by MokBar for their first tastes of Korean food, including Choi's notable ramen and rice sticks, she said. Mokbar is entering its first full year of success, marking a landmark for Choi: she aimed to have her own restaurant by age 30 and she's turning 30 this year. "Serving my food to people for an entire year is very emotional and it's become my life, I hope to serve more and more people," she said. While Choi has been working nonstop for six years, she plans to travel soon for more inspiration, learning from as many other Korean grandmas as possible. --MK Sara Bigelow, Butcher & General Manager at The Meat Hook Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL Thanks to her persistence and dedication, Sara Bigelow is not just a butcher but also the general manager at The Meat Hook butcher shop in Williamsburg. And she started from the bottom: she was the first employee. Bigelow, 29, said it took a little time for her to get past the "phenomenon of feeling like you're a women and you have to feel like a man." How, we asked? "I started saying no to shots that were put in front of me!" she said with a laugh. Indeed, meat butchery, especially in the United States, has a reputation for being a man's realm. "It's undeniable that you as a woman as a butcher, are in the minority," she said. But The Meat Hook is a progressive place, both in how they think about food and how they treat their employees, Bigelow said. In fact, her gender was more of an issue when she worked at a coffee shop in her hometown of Culver City, Ca. The owner staffed only women to work the counter. We were all young and all looked a certain way," she said. Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL But while all employees are treated equally in the butcher shop, she says there are some basic challenges for women. For example, the strength needed to "haul something [like a whole pig] off a truck and onto a counter." And sometimes being in the minority has its downsides - you don't get all the inside jokes and references. "Casual conversations... Movies I'd never seen...I started a list and I'm still working on it!" she said, ticking off "Roadhouse," "Striptease" and "True Romance" as examples. "I checked the list with my brother and all the dude friends in my life, they'd seen them." But perhaps Bigelow's belief in herself is wholly responsible for her success. "I was always very competitive and I don't like being told what to do," she said. And then she proceeded to butcher a huge top round cut of steak. --GK Mary Attea, Chef de Cuisine at Annisa Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL Mary Attea's first job in the food industry was at a pizzeria in her hometown of Buffalo. She hadn't even gone to college yet, but she knew there was something about the work that appealed to her. After dropping out of grad school, she worked as a waitress. Attea, 31, discovered that the questions she wanted to know the answers to - like how to understand wine - appealed to her more than anything she studied previously. "The spark came back," she said. And so, after five years of watching the action in the kitchen, she began studying herself at the Institute of Culinary Education. She began her run at Annisa as an intern, and rose up through the ranks quickly. After 3 1/2 years, she is the Chef de Cuisine. Attea says because most of her kitchen experience has been at Annisa, where Chef Anita Lo is the owner and head chef, she has been spared from much of the gender issues in the industry, which has allowed her to grow. She also says her confidence has helped her in the "male-dominated industry." "I was always, 'anything you can do I can do better,'" she said. "Here, we're very gender neutral. If you have what it takes, we'll give you the job... Hopefully it will be an obsolete issue [soon]." --GK Tracy Obolsky, Executive Pastry Chef at North End Grill Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ Whimsical desserts straight out of your favorite fairy tale (think Red Hot cinnamon buns, homemade thin mint sundaes and popcorn souffle with salted butterscotch) may sound like they are taken direct from the pages of a children's book -- except you can taste them. North End Grill's Executive Pastry Chef Tracy Obolsky aspired to illustrate books, earning a degree from Pratt Institute, before her career change to cooking. "My family was really surprised -- I could barely make toast," Obolsky said. After years of bartending and working in restaurants, at age twenty-four, Obolsky enrolled culinary school. The oldest in her class by several years, Obolsky was inspired to catch up for years she had not baked, looking back at her grandmother's recipes for inspiration. "Nostalgia inspires me," said Obolsky, who cherishes being able to connect with her late grandmother through her recipes. Though she had never planned to work in fine dining, Obolsky started in a fine dining kitchen and got hooked on the adrenaline. The rush of energy combined with her passion for artistry eventually led her to the position of executive pastry chef, where she manages a team of all female chefs at TriBeCa's North End Grill. The restaurant also has a female sous chef. "At other restaurants, being a woman and a cook can be a little more challenging," said Obolsky. "Not everyone likes women telling them what to do." Obolsky feels supported in her kitchen and loves seeing more women executive chefs and management teams in the industry. "Women are making strides to get the jobs they want and it's nice to see." In 2015, Obolsky was named Star Chef's New York Rising Star Pastry Chef. She notes that she has sacrificed a lot, bouncing rent checks and working hard constantly, but it has paid off. --MK Antonella Rana, Co-owner Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ "Don't worry, this one is not for you," Antonella Rana, 38, calls out to a couple dining at her restaurant Giovanni Rana Pastifico & Cucina in Chelsea Market, as she demonstrates making ravioli. The moment illustrates her skill and also humility. She is putting on a perfect demonstration: the homemade pasta looks delicious. After three years in New York, Rana has picked up English almost exclusively from time spent at the restaurant, but her enthusiasm and vivacity for pasta translates in all languages. Born and raised in Italy, Rana loved food from an early age, learning to make pasta from her grandmother Victoria and eventually marrying into the Rana pasta family. "Food is a common ground of pleasure and food is my work," she said of loving time in the kitchen. As a woman and an entrepreneur, Rana has struggled with balancing her empathetic and compassionate side with her tougher, managerial side. Discipline doesn't come as naturally to her as sharing a fresh plate of ravioli, but at the end of the day she'll reprimand if it's best for the business. "The general landscape of the food industry is very masculine... you see grandmas in the tradition of putting food on the table but fewer young women being heroes of the kitchen," she said adding that she does not see women in leading cooking roles as often as she would like. Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ Rana feels accomplished as an ambassador of her country and traditions. She is authentic in her cooking style but also makes choices that helps her brand be a strong innovator. Dishes like chile garlic pappardelle and heart-shaped ravioli with king crab inside combine Italian cooking with New York sensibilities and the popularity of these creative dishes attests to Rana's success. "I love when Italian tourists come here and say 'This pasta is crazy,'" she said. "That means I'm doing my job." --MK Mina Pizarro, Executive Pastry Chef at Juni Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ "It was a matter of aesthetics," Mina Pizarro said on her career change from advertising to cooking. "In this industry you need the drive to do the hours and commit, but that's the beauty of the industry." Growing up surrounded by food from her Filipino culture, the career shift from days at a desk to fourteen-hour shifts on her feet in a kitchen felt natural to Pizzaro. Pizzaro used to think that the industry is male dominated, but is beginning to see that doesn't have to necessarily be the case. "Gender is strange way of looking it food," she said, "It's a creative process... Cooking is very visual" Inspired by nature and creative things, Pizzaro found another passion in ceramics. She's currently working on creating her own plates to feature her dessert menu at Juni. Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ Beyond accolades and awards Pizzaro has earned -- she won a Star Chefs Rising Pastry Chef award this year, she believes her lack of self-doubt is her biggest personal success. "My biggest accomplishment is getting to a place where I am confident at expressing how I feel and what I am putting out to the public." --MK Sophie Jaeger, Owner and Head Pastry Chef at Caprices by Sophie Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ "I always ate so many cakes," Sophie Jaeger, 36, said with a laugh in her petite Williamsburg bakery and cafe. Opening Caprices by Sophie came after a career in corporate law and banking, when Jaeger decided to turn a sweet tooth and passion for baking into her career. "It sounds cheesy, but baking for people is a great way to show people you care about them," Jaeger said. Jaeger built her business completely on her own, transforming a former North Sixth Street apartment into a bakery and retail space. "Everyone said i needed a huge oven, but I didn't want it to take over half of the shop," Jaeger said on doing things her own way. She now has seating areas inside the shop as well as a garden space she designed herself. While working to build the shop over a year ago, Jaeger recalls giving her construction workers beer to relax with and doing the dirty work herself while they watched in awe. Always willing to work hard, she didn't see any big deal with a woman building a business from scratch. On being a woman in the business, Jaeger believes that she has to negotiate harder in business deals and push harder than men. She's heard that men and women will get different prices from distributors and knowing that she insists on getting the best price. Jaeger would love to open a bakery in Manhattan, but finding a space is difficult. She's attracted a loyal following in Brooklyn but many residents of the newly built condos on the Williamsburg waterfront leave for work during the day. Before she figures out her next point of sale, Jaeger will travel to her native France, where she'll be sure to taste pastries in Paris and be inspired by what she sees. --MK Jessica Brown, Wine Director at the John Dory Oyster Bar & the Breslin Photo Credit: GEORGIA KRAL Jessica Brown started her food industry career in Ithaca, after graduating from Cornell. But she quickly realized she wanted to be in NYC - "the greatest food city in the world." Brown, 32, moved with her husband, who is currently the wine director at the NoMad, and she worked at Parm as an opening manager before taking a sommelier job at Nick & Toni's in East Hampton. Next was an assistant general manager and wine director at Scarpetta, followed by her current gig at The John Dory and The Breslin. As wine director, Brown's job is to help customers interpret what they are looking for in wine. It's an exciting challenge, she says, because the restaurants are always looking to "stay relevant and be accessible." Brown says she is lucky to be in a company like this one, which is led by the famous chef April Bloomfield and is filled with women in management positions. But she also acknowledges that the changing times is what has helped a company like this one to thrive. "This restaurant group wouldn't have existed 10 years ago," she said. Up until recently, "women cooking was domestic, and upper echelon chefs were men." Brown also said she thinks the "double standard" still exists. "Women who are seen as assertive and passionate are often seen as aggressive, more often than men," she said, adding that women are often considered more emotional than man. "Having your emotions held against you is a huge thing for women. --GK Carolina Santos-Neves, Chef de Cuisine at Comodo and Colonia Verde Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ Half Brazilian and half American, Carolina Santos-Neves, 34, grew up around the world, from Mexico City to Switzerland to New York City, experiencing plenty of new foods along the way. "My understanding of culture was eating the food," she explained. Loving food stems from Santos-Neves' mom, who cooked exotic foods for nightly family dinners. "We weren't a Campbell's soup family," she laughed. After graduating from Brown and working as an editor at Epicurious for five years, Santos-Neves' passion for food grew and the restaurant world intrigued her. "I thought I'd be the person who makes five dishes and when they're out the shop is closed," she said, "I wasn't thinking of financials." Partnering with an old acquaintance Felipe Donnelly, the two started with supper clubs at City Grit and Santos-Neves initially helped open Comodo as a consultant. Her desire to be in the kitchen grew so she enrolled in the chefs training program at the National Gourmet Institute. Rising from managerial consultant to chef de cuisine, Santo-Neves left her editorial career behind and became a full-fledged restauranteur. Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ "I've only worked in this kitchen and I get along with the guys really well-- I feel l very respected," Santos-Neves said of her time as a woman in a professional kitchen. She's excited to see more of an emphasis to highlight female chefs. "I feel pretty lucky to be part of a team that's opened two restaurants and a catering company," she said on her accomplishments. Recently, she spoke in front of a crowd of 150 people at Bitten Food Conference, where she officially launched Comparti Catering. "Don't let fear get in the way," Santos-Neves advises aspiring chefs. "Don't try to conform to something but be true to who you are. Bring that to the kitchen and put your love and your all into your food." -- MK Amy Stonionis, Corporate and Restaurant Executive Chef at Murray's Cheese Photo Credit: MELISSA KRAVITZ Growing up in Swoyersville, Pennsylvania, Amy Stonionis learned to cook with her grandmother and great aunts, always considering food a hobby more than a profession. At 26 years old, Stonionis enrolled in culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education. Having worked on a farm picking green beans, butchering, catering and other odd food jobs since she was 17, "It seemed like a natural progression." Stonionis is currently in charge of all food programs at Murray's Cheese, starting with a job to create prepared foods and eventually taking over the popular Bleecker Street restaurant. While she doesn't sleep much, the corporate and restaurant executive chef enjoys mentoring and training her staff and seeing them grow. Her passion lies in simple food done really well. "Food should be evocative of memories," she said. At Murray's, Stonionis creates a seasonal menu that reminds her of foods she'd eat with her family. Of Stonionis's staff of 36, three employees are women. While the Murray's team works well together, this has not always been the case for Stonionis. "The first restaurant kitchen I worked in NYC I wanted to work at the fish station and they had doubts," she recalled. The chef suggested she start with salads. Having grown up fishing, Stonionis had to beg for her chance but "I took down the fish faster and cooked it to temp!" Seeing more strong women in the kitchen is helping break down assumptions about what female chefs can or cannot do, she said. "Since the time I started cooking until now it's a completely different world," Stonionis said. "The old school mentality of the dictating, throwing plates chef doesn't have a place in the modern kitchen. I try and work collaboratively with everyone and encourage creativity." At Murray's, Stonionis works closely with head cheesemonger Rachel Frier, who inspires her to create more with cheese as well as program dinners like Meet the Makers. "I couldn't work without her," she said. --MK By GEORGIA KRAL & MELISSA KRAVITZ Share on Facebook Share on Twitter More on this topic NYC's monuments and memorials dedicated to womenCelebrate Women's History Month by reflecting at one of these monuments. 5 NYC women who aren't famous, but should beFor Women's History Month, a well-deserved shout out. Celebrate Women's History Month in NYCCelebrate Women's History Month with these events around NYC. Comments We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.