Though this past year has seen troubling stories about treatment of women in the food industry, things are looking up in 2019. Important conversations are continuing, and females in all roles are being showcased for their talent and accomplishments — from features on industry innovators to food info services encouraging patrons to choose women-owned restaurants. And here in New York City, female chefs at the top of their careers are creating a collective resource to empower and uplift others in their industry called “Egaliteria.”
Egaliteria — whose wordplay combines “egalitarian” with “cafeteria” (and “gal”)—is an “all-female chef collective seeking to become a resource for other female back of house workers.” Founder Sara Antes, the head chef at Taylor St Baristas near Grand Central, knew how vital the mentorship of experienced female chefs was at the beginning of her career, and wanted to find a more organized way to pay it forward.
“It was amazing to be surrounded by that many powerful women,” she said. “I wish I had a resource like this when I started… so I want to make that for other people.”
Antes attended the Natural Gourmet Institute in Chelsea, and after graduation worked her way up from line cook to sous chef to executive sous chef at a variety of New York hot spots like The Fat Radish and the Soho Grand. She was the head chef at Okiway in Bushwick for a year and has run the kitchen at Taylor St Baristas for almost three years now.
Antes says female chef mentors were essential to her professional growth.
“Whenever I’ve worked with women in kitchens — and this is not to deride other male-run kitchens who work super hard — I’ve found that women are always much more collaborative with experimenting, and tend to be great listeners,” Antes explained. “They’re also more nurturing to people who are younger in their culinary track.”
Art, food, drink and music
The collective’s first opportunity to continue that nurturing spirit is with its premiere pop-up dinner on April 12, which Antes is cooking up with her Egaliteria partners Jessica Tree, whom she worked with at The Fat Radish, and Rachel Nichols, whom she met at The Smile. Nichols says the goal for this event, and the group at large, is to “build a space for us and future participants to come together and be ourselves.”
“It might sound simple, but in a professional kitchen for most of my career I felt I had to keep my head down, keep quiet and work,” she continued. “Sharing ideas, experimenting with food, and using new ingredients are all paramount to the flow of creative energy for a chef.
“Creating a healthier work environment in restaurant kitchens starts at the top, [and] the more opportunities we have to let go, have fun and be ourselves, the better we can be for our teams and customers.”
The women want the event to serve as a kind of “think space,” full of young creatives bouncing ideas off each other. It will be an amalgam of art, food, drink and music, all by women. Antes, Tree and Nichols will be cooking and serving, a female bartender will be mixing batch cocktails, a woman cellist and violinist will provide background tunes, and Hudson Valley artist Jessica Bottalico will showcase ceramics on the tables and paintings on the wall.
“I feel like the more chicks you can get into one space that are creative, the better energy we’re going to get out of the whole experience,” Antes said. “And there’s something very opulent about having beautiful food and beautiful art… it makes the environment nicer.”
The three-course menu — which has been custom-developed by Antes, Tree and Nichols — is inspired by early spring, when fresh ingredients become accessible once again. So far they’ve come up with: rutabaga gnocchi with lap cheong (Chinese sausage), baby bok choy and miso butter; fava bean salad with fiddlehead fern, finger lime and chili crunch; and goat curd with “hen of the woods” mushrooms.
“What better space to build community? That’s how so many families are forged, by sitting down every day at meals together,” Antes said.
For future plans, the women envision partnering with culinary schools, having other pop-ups, putting on a potential lecture series, hosting classes, and more dinners with speakers sharing inspiring stories. Though open to anyone in the hospitality community, including food bloggers, etc., Antes emphasized that the group is meant to be a professional resource for those serious about their culinary careers.
“While working with Sara and Rachel, it was apparent that the camaraderie during our experience together was a rare gem, and we all grew substantially when sharing the influence in our various workplaces,” Tree added. “With Egaliteria I hope to help make that inspiration accessible.
“It’s important to me to see the workplaces of today grow to a standard of civility and equality, promoting confidence and well-being for not only the sake of production, but humanity.”
IF YOU GO: Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m. April 12 at Lee’s Private Dining Room, 171 Canal St., floors two and three. Tickets at $50 can be purchased on Facebook or Eventbrite, and/or donate to the cause on their GoFundMe page.