For anyone who’s ever made a joke about women belonging in the kitchen, these dynamic female chefs will make ’em eat their words. They’re global citizens, making a difference in their community through food. With their passion for cuisine, each of these four chefs is advocating for a cause close to heart—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
How many people can say they were appointed by Hillary Clinton to improve diplomacy? Out of 80 chefs chosen for the 2012 class of American Chef Corps, Weir was one of only 20 women. And she hasn’t stopped there. Currently, she teaches intimate cooking classes in Australia, Italy, Morocco, and beyond. She also has her own 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 studied art education, but grew up with three whole generations of chefs behind her and names her mom, Alice Waters, and Madeleine Kamman as mentors throughout her culinary training. What inspires Weir the most is traveling around the world to be face-to-face with people who are excited about food and building connections—she calls it an “atmosphere of joy.”
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 out of just a small handful of 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. There, she realized that saving the rainforest depended on creating a sustainable economy. Her first business, Mapping Sustainability, was a geographic information company servicing ecology and public health—whose work with tree canopies was recognized by Dr. Wangari Matai, the only winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for ecology work. From there, she decided to make sustainable American Craft chocolate (think Brooklyn’s Mast Brothers). From scouting out rare and heirloom cacao beans, manufacturing, packaging, marketing, HR and sales, she’s got her hands in every step of the process. Castronovo sources the cacao beans from indigenous people who live off of the rainforest, and thereby provides income for a sustainably harvested product. Today, Castronovo holds several prestigious awards for her American Craft chocolate, and hopes to catch the eye of investors to grow the business next.
Food for thought: “Put yourself in a position for opportunity. Have the confidence to go for it and realize that if you put your heart into it, success will follow.”
The On-Air All-Star
Natasha Forde, contestant on Food Network’s Chopped and ABC’s The Taste
Ever since she was a child, Forde was inspired by her grandmother’s cooking skills. The family table was a place for shared values and political discussions—for bringing people together. Since her early 20s, Forde has been an avid volunteer for domestic abuse and an advocate for women’s rights. Before becoming a celebrity chef, she worked for a caterer that served corporations, but also created healthy meals that aided people suffering through rare illnesses, weight loss, and cancer. Through mentoring and teaching young women about food, Forde strongly believes that while women may be suffering from all types of abuse or disease, they can’t put health on the backburner. Therefore, Forde hopes to start a scholarship foundation for these women, to fulfill their dreams of studying culinary arts.
Food for thought: “Do what you do best, and the world will come along for the ride.”
Cikowski is a rare breed of positivity, leadership, and gratitude that allows her to be an inspiring mentor, fried chicken connoisseur, and writer. A former musician-turned-chef, she gets inspiration from nature and her second family of staff, customers, and partners. After studying at Kendall College for culinary school, she founded Sunday Dinner Club in Chicago, a decade-old tradition of throwing “underground” dinner parties with delicious, locally-sourced meals intended to form personal connections between guests and the farmers who produced the food. In 2013, another business emerged in the form of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, a restaurant with a poultry focus. When she isn’t mentoring inner-city girls to become career-bound through Step Up, she’s a strong advocate for ethical food sourcing—even supporting her business partner to lobby Congress on fare wages and employee sick days. She believes that nourishing the body with fresh food helps cleanse the soul, and if she and her teams at SDC and HBFC can generate a feel-good atmosphere behind the scenes, then their customers and friends will feel good eating their food, too.
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.”
Photos: Courtesy of Natasha Forde, Joanne Weir, Denise Castronovo; Ten Photos / Courtesy of Christine Cikowski