New York City Wine & Food Festival kicks off with spotlight on female chefs

The New York City Wine & Food Festival is cooking up a new feminist recipe for its 11th year.

A brand-new event, Supper is Served, will feature a tasting by an all-female roster of chefs and mixologists, along with special performances by Martina McBride and Natasha Bedingfield.

Tarana Burke, who founded the Me Too movement in 2006 to support survivors of sexual violence, will host Thursday evening’s tasting, along with big-name chefs Giada De Laurentiis, Alex Guarnaschelli, Katie Lee and Rachael Ray.

All of the latter have been involved with the festival for many years, so why pivot to an all-female showcase for 2018?

“We felt that it was important to kick off the festival weekend by celebrating some of the most influential women who are carving a path for future generations in the hospitality industry,” says Lee Schrager, founder of NYCWFF.

He stands firm that the event aligns with the festival’s no-politics stance.

“No, it is not political,” Schrager says of the festival’s first deliberately all-female showcase. “It speaks to a social topic that is at the forefront of many conversations happening across every industry…. NYCWFF’s mission has always centered around social change. Every year, we strive to make a positive change in the community and create programming and events to reflect what is happening in our world.”

Still, other events in this year’s NYCWFF lineup resonate with political themes, like Andrew Zimmern’s immigration and hospitality panel on Friday afternoon.

“These are relevant social conversations facing our industry, and we’re happy to be including them as part of the festivals,” Schrager says.

Giving women their own showcase — akin to limiting categorizations like best “female” chef — is no substitute for ensuring that women are equally represented in the male-dominated field. Many chefs, like Alex Baker of Manhattan’s Yves, wanted to participate in the event to prove that yes, there is a movement to support women in food right now.

“Every opportunity I have to be involved in this movement I want to jump on. It’s very inspiring and I want to do my part,” says Baker, who joins two dozen women in the event. “Food festivals are a great medium to reach people out of the industry and to continue promoting equality, empower and inspire a new generation of female chefs.”

She hopes to see more women recognized exclusively for their cooking ability soon, and “not just because they are women chefs.”

Eden Grinshpan, chef and co-founder (along with By Chloe’s Samantha Wasser) of the Middle Eastern fast-casual eatery Dez in NoLIta, finds all-female food events a "great step in the right direction."

“Historically, the restaurant industry has been male-dominated, so being able to work side by side with women in such a competitive and challenging field is an incredibly empowering experience — celebrating women chefs and showing support for one another makes us stronger,” says Grinshpan, who is participating in the showcase. “It’s about time that women get their well-deserved respect as accomplished chefs.”

One area Grinshpan sees needs improvement is the quality of life and work-life balance for chefs.

“A chef’s life is very difficult, so for women who want to start a family, it can be challenging to pursue a career as a chef," she says. "I think it’s important for there to be a work-life balance for both men and women chefs and for us to be able to pursue our careers without working 24/7.”


Supper is Served is Thursday at 7 p.m. at Pier 92 | Tickets $150 at nycwff.org