By Jamie Leeds
The president of Women Chefs & Restaurateurs calls on us to acknowledge the achievements of women culinarians and hospitality professionals in recognition of National Women’s History Month.
In 1987, Congress declared March National Women's History Month. A special Presidential Proclamation annually honors the extraordinary achievements of American women. The National Women’s History Project (www.nwhp.org) based in Santa Rosa, Calif., has declared 2011’s theme “Our History Is Our Strength.”
Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR) was founded in 1993 by Lidia Bastianich, Elka Gilmore, Joyce Goldstein, Johanne Killeen, Barbara Lazaroff, Mary Sue Milliken, Anne Rosenzweig and Barbara Tropp. WCR’s mission then and now is to promote and enhance the education, advancement and connection of women in culinary and hospitality fields. We offer a variety of networking, professional and support services—including a vibrant scholarship/internship program that creates opportunities for future and established professionals to gain needed or desired skills at home and abroad.
Nearly 20 years after our founding, WCR finds itself at an interesting crossroads. In the early 1990s, it was critical that women in foodservice raise their collective voice to be heard. While the need to champion the unique and profound strengths and contributions of women is no less important now, the landscape since has changed dramatically. Twenty years ago, for instance, women were a distinct minority among students in professional culinary-arts and hospitality-management classrooms. Today, in virtually every industry training program in the nation, the ratio of women to men is equal, or nearly so. When more women graduates attain the management roles in the fields to which they aspire, what character will American hospitality assume? What effect will more women executives have on menus, service and operations? While we cannot know the shape of future change, WCR is at the forefront of this ever-evolving industry.
Like the National Women’s History Project, we, as members of WCR, believe our history is our strength. We honor the extraordinary achievements of women in culinary, hospitality and affiliated roles every day. In restaurants and hotels, in wineries and drinking establishments, in hospitals and assisted-living centers, in elementary schools and universities, among food writers and teachers of cooking, and in small, heritage farms and large, global food-manufacturing companies, we celebrate the contributions of women who have fashioned American foodways since the first Colonists arrived from distant shores. In so doing, we continue to work to inspire the next generation of women to follow in our footsteps and from whom we, in turn, will one day learn and be inspired.
Indeed, as WCR has grown to more than 2,000 members, in recent years we have placed greater emphasis on embracing and welcoming the vast diversity of roles of women in foodservice and hospitality. While we are known as “chefs and restaurateurs,” WCR has strived to become the resource organization for all women in food- and beverage-related roles. That mission continues in earnest.
Meanwhile, we acknowledge with great appreciation that, for many of us, our mentors were and are men. The chefs and managers who generously guided and influenced us to become the successful women we are today shared their expertise and knowledge while encouraging us to do the same.
WCR’s 2011 conference will be in Cambridge, Mass., November 5-7. We invite all culinarians and hospitality professionals—representing every industry segment and role—to join us as we share the experiences and knowledge that have the power to enrich and edify us all.
Jamie Leeds is president of Madison, Ala.-based Women Chefs & Restaurateurs and chef/owner of CommonWealth Gastropub and two locations of Hank’s Oyster Bar in greater Washington, D.C. For more information on WCR, visit www.womenchefs.org.