For anyone who still believes women belong in the kitchen, these powerful female chefs will change their minds. They’re using food to make a difference all over the world. Each of these four chefs is passionate about cuisine and advocating for a cause close to their hearts—feeding not only the belly but also the mind and soul.
The Do-It-All Chef
Joanne Weir, host of “Joanne Weir Gets Fresh” and owner of Copita Tequileria y Comida restaurant
Many people were vying for a spot in the 2012 American Chef Corps, but only 80 chefs were selected- 20 of which were women. Out of those 20 female chefs, Hillary Clinton hand-picked Weir to join her team and help improve diplomacy through food. Joanne Weir teaches intimate cooking classes in Australia, Italy, Morocco, and other countries. She also has her TV show on PBS (“Joanne Weir Gets Fresh”), owns a Mexican-inspired restaurant in California plus a wine e-commerce business, and she has a food memoir coming out in September. She comes from a long line of chefs and was trained by some of the best in the business, including her mom, Alice Waters, and Madeleine Kamman. Weir is most inspired when she gets to travel and meet new people who are passionate about food. She loves the “atmosphere of joy” that these interactions create.
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Food for thought: “Love what you do and work very, very hard. Don’t be afraid to make sacrifices.”
The Chocolate Connoisseur
Denise Castronovo, founder of Castronovo Chocolate
Castronovo is one of only a few female chocolate makers in America. Her passion for ecology began with professor Eugene Odum (“the father of modern ecology”) and a trip to Costa Rica. After she moved there, she realized that saving the rainforest also meant creating a sustainable economy. Her first business, Mapping Sustainability, was a geographic information company servicing ecology and public health. Their work with tree canopies was even recognized by Dr. Wangari Matai – the only Nobel Peace Prize winner for Ecology! After that, she decided to create sustainable American Craft chocolate (similar to Brooklyn’s Mast Brothers). From finding rare and heirloom cacao beans to manufacturing and packaging them, as well as marketing, HR and sales – she’s involved in every step of the process. By sourcing cacao beans from the indigenous people who live off of the rainforest, Castronovo provides income for a sustainably harvested product. Today, her American Craft chocolate has won several prestigious awards, and she hopes to catch the eye of investors to grow the business next.
Food for thought: “Put yourself in a position for the opportunity. Have the confidence to go for it and realize that if you put your heart into it, success will follow.”
[Related: What is a Food Co-op and Is It Worth Joining?]
The On-Air All-Star
Natasha Forde, a contestant on Food Network’s Chopped and ABC’s The Taste
Forde was always inspired by her grandmother’s cooking skills, ever since she was a child. The family table wasn’t just any old place to eat; it fostered shared values and political discussion that brought people together. Forde has been fighting for women‘s rights and volunteering against domestic abuse since she was in her early 20s. Before she became world-renowned, she worked for a catering company that crafted both‑ gourmet dishes for corporate events and healthy meals designed to help those with rare illnesses, cancer patients, and people trying to lose weight. Forde believes that while women may be suffering from all types of abuse or disease, they can’t put health on the back burner. She mentors and teaches young women about food to help them improve their overall well-being. Forde plans to establish a scholarship foundation for women who want to study culinary arts, to help them achieve their dreams.
Food for thought: “Do what you do best, and the world will come along for the ride.”
Christine Cikowski, owner of Sunday Dinner Club and Honey Butter Fried Chicken
Cikowski’s successful ability to infuse positivity, leadership, and gratitude into her everyday life has resulted in her excelling as an inspiring mentor, fried chicken connoisseur, and writer. Having been a musician in her former life, she now looks to nature and the relationships she has with her staff, customers, and partners for inspiration as a chef. After attending culinary school at Kendall College, she started Sunday Dinner Club in Chicago. Hosting “underground” dinner parties that always have delicious locally-sourced meals. The purpose of these outings is to give guests a chance to form personal connections with the farmers who grew/produced the food. In 2013, Christy Harrison’s business cohort suggested starting a chicken restaurant. And so, Honey Butter Fried Chicken was born. Between running the successful eatery and mentoring underprivileged girls to become career-focused through Step Up, Harrison finds time to support her partner in fighting for employee rights such as better wages and paid sick days. Nourishing the body with fresh food is something she believes in deeply because it can help cleanse the soul. If she and her team members at SDC and HBFC work hard to generate a positive atmosphere behind the scenes, then their customers and friends will feel good about eating their food as well.
Food for thought: “If it’s your passion, the work becomes secondary to your mission, and you muscle through the hard parts of the journey to get to the greater destination. Arm yourself with knowledge, follow your heart, and take the leap of faith. If you fall, get back up and get to work.”