Today marks International Women’s Day, a perfect time to celebrate the women pushing the food and beverage industry forward. Appropriately, this date also marks the last event in a special series that we at OpenTable have been proud to support: a 10-year anniversary celebration for Frances, Melissa Perello’s beloved San Francisco restaurant.
The series featured 10 dinners, all hosted by women chefs, winemakers, and sommeliers from across the nation. In the spirit of honoring the smart, creative, talented women who are shaping the future of the restaurant world, we asked the remarkable participants one question: What’s the biggest or most exciting change you’ve seen in the industry in the past decade?
Here’s what they had to say.
“The long-overdue #MeToo movement is the cause of a tectonic shift in the restaurant industry, not only shedding light on how women are treated but paving the way for cultural change within. We still have a long way to go, but awareness is the first step.”
– Anita Lo, chef and cookbook author
Lo is best known for her work at annisa, a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant in New York she owned and operated for 17 years. She was the first female chef to collaborate for a state dinner at the White House under the Obama administration.
“It has been incredible to see the stance of zero tolerance that the restaurant industry has taken in regards to the #MeToo movement and finally holding people accountable. We can only go up from here, continuing to really listen to those that speak out and give a platform to those that don’t feel they are able to.”
– Traci des Jardins, chef/owner
Des Jardins has been a part of the San Francisco food scene for over 28 years, opening Jardinière in 1997 and Mijita Cocina Mexicana in 2004 as chef/owner (both closed in 2019). She is chef/partner of The Commissary, Arguello, Transit, Public House, and School Night. She is also the culinary advisor to Impossible Foods, which launched the Impossible Burger in 2016.
“I am no longer alone. The only woman, the only woman of color, the only one who wanted to talk about the best lipsticks for working the floor as a sommelier. Early in my career, I was never able to find a woman mentor or role model to support me. Now there are many. Including me!”
– Belinda Chang, sommelier
“Diversity! While there is always room to keep opening the door to people of diverse backgrounds, it seems like the range of cultures represented in the overall restaurant landscape has grown. In the beverage world, there are more regions from more parts of the world represented in wine and spirits.”
– Morgan Calcote, general manager and wine director
Calcote started as a server at Charleston’s FIG and was promoted to GM in 2014. Four years later, under her management, FIG took home the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Program.
“An intentional move toward mission-driven restaurants and a rejection of the notion that creativity lives in fine dining.”
– Alex Raij, chef/owner
Raij is half of the husband-and-wife duo behind Txikito, El Quinto Pino, La Vara, and Saint Julivert, concepts that combine Basque traditions with the Jewish and Moorish influences in southern Spain. Read her take on being a mom in the industry in our interview.
“The variety of restaurants that have opened, and the new stories they bring to the table.”
– Kim Alter, chef/owner
Nightbird and Linden Room are Alter’s first solo projects in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. (Here’s her story on opening the concepts.) She led the kitchens at Haven and Plum and Oakland also worked at Manresa, Ubuntu, and Acquerello.
“The acceptance of new (or previously hidden) varietals. Now you see single varietal bottles of Counoise, Mourvedre, Picpoul, and more! It’s so fun to have such a wide variety of wines, and often at great, affordable price points.”
– Jennifer Reichardt, owner/winemaker
Reichardt grew up in a family of duck farmers. She launched Raft Wines in 2016 using organic California grapes and now oversees all aspects of the business.
Wellness & Sustainability
“The amount of young people becoming a savvy, big consumer group. I’m constantly impressed by their awareness for the environment, knowledge of wines, knowing where their food comes from, and opting for healthier eating. It gives me hope that the planet will be in better hands with future generations.”
– Shelley Lindgren, owner and wine director
Lindgren opened A16 in San Francisco in 2004, showcasing Italian wine beyond Barolos and Brunellos. The restaurant received the 2015 James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Program – learn how she did it in our interview.
“The leaning in on health and wellness, and how much this has been a driver for new restaurant ideas. The desire for work/life balance has created a shift in perspective, and I think has been felt the most in the kitchen.”
– Naomi Pomeroy, chef/owner
Pomeroy serves intimate tasting menus at her Portland, Oregon, restaurant Beast, which won her the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northwest in 2014. She is also proprietor of the cocktail lounge Expatriate, and she and her husband own a floral design studio and plant shop.
“More people are recognizing and acknowledging the importance of sustainability.”
– Gabriela Cámara, chef/owner
Camara’s San Francisco restaurant Cala was Food & Wine’s Best New Restaurant in 2016, while Contramar continues to win accolades as one of the top restaurants in Mexico. Cámara is also a partner in Santa Monica’s Onda has been named among Fortune’s Most Innovative Women in Food & Drink.
“The overall push toward professionalism in the industry has been both big and exciting (and necessary, for this industry to continue). The job description of what it means to be a chef has really shifted. There’s been a move toward embracing the responsibility of leadership and mentorship in a way that didn’t exist before.”
– Ashley Christensen, chef/owner
Known for her Raleigh, NC restaurants Poole’s Diner, Beasley’s Chicken + Honey, Chuck’s, Fox Liquor Bar, Death & Taxes, Bridge Club, and Poole’side Pies, Christensen was named Best Chef: Southeast by the James Beard Foundation in 2014. She also been named Chef of the Year by Eater.com.