On April 17th and 18th, just under 300 attendees descended upon the InterContinental in Century City for the 23rd annual Women Chefs and Restaurateurs national conference. The organizers packed a lot into two days, so here are just some of the highlights:
Mary Sue Milliken started off the event on a high note with an inspiring opening keynote speech recapping her journey, her negative and positive experiences starting, applying “continuous gracious pressure” on her boss to allow her take on the same responsibilities as her male peers, and ultimately, with long-time business partner Susan Feniger, becoming her own boss.
The popular Food Games took place, pitting three teams of two volunteers each, along with a celebrity chef for each team, in a cooking competition. Hosted by Susan Feniger and Elizabeth Falkner, and judged by Nancy Silverton, Dominique Crenn, Antonia Lafaso, and Sophie Gayot, the Food Games was a raucous time.
The celebrity chef coaches were Nyesha Arrington, Mei Lin, and Brooke Williamson, all Top Chef alums, with Mei Lin winning season 12 and Brooke Williamson runner-up in season 10. While at least one dish from each chef’s team won a round of the competition, it was Arrington’s team’s pork loin, pictured above, that took top honors.
Several other panels rounded out the first day, on topics such as what inspires successful chefs, corporate chef careers, work-life balance, PR’s role in the restaurant’s industry. The last session at the InterContinental was a screening of the documentary “Breakfast at Ina’s” on Ina Pinkney as she prepares to close down her beloved, eponymous breakfast spot in Chicago.
The first day ended with a kickoff party at the Annenberg Community Beach House. Featuring women chefs and restaurateurs such as Suzanne Tracht of Jar, Julie Jangali of Montage Beverly Hills, Sally Camacho Mueller of the CIA (that’s the Culinary Institute of America), and Nikki Booth and Chloe Dahl of Knuckle and Claw (and more!), it was a delicious way to wind down from all the learning and networking that took place during the day.
The second day was primarily held at the New School of Cooking in Culver City, a stone’s throw away from Helms Bakery. Sessions included advances in kitchen technologies, social media training, contracts and negotiations, butchery, foie gras tasting, developing wine lists, and mixology. The afternoons were full of one-on-one and small group mentoring sessions led by veterans of the food industry.
The evening held one of the more anticipated events of the conference, the Women Who Inspire Awards. We had two Los Angeles-based winners: Della Gossett of Spago, who took the baking and pastry WCR Golden Bowl Award, and Bella Lantsman of Chinois on Main, who was recognized for her front-of-house service with the WCR Golden Glass Award.
Of course, everyone was a winner when it came time to eat. Attendees started off with some delicious bites at cocktail hour, including oysters and ceviche from chef Michelle Lainez (pictured at top of post) of Border Grill, and a delicious octopus and couscous dish from chef Megan Logan of Cafe Pinot.
Then we moved on to entree bites, though the portions given out were certainly not bite-sized. Highlights included the cioppino from chef Helene Kennan of Guckenheimer, Tavern chef Amy Deaderick’s super-tender pork cheeks, and seared scallops from Superba Food+Bread’s Vicki Fann.
But we’re not done yet, folks, because there’s dessert! Most people may not think peas would make good desserts, but they do, and chef Jashmine Corpuz of Redbird made a wonderful English pea cake with the legumes. Chef Kristina Karlicki of Cosmopolitan Las Vegas had some delicious tarts as well as a playful vanilla yuzu dessert served in minature bathtubs complete with rubber duckies.
While I’ve attended marathon-length food events that spanned days, like LA Food & Wine and LA Times’ The Taste, this was my first food-related conference. I don’t know if this is stereotyping, but I kind of expected a conference led and primarily attended by women to be full of support and camaraderie. Women Chefs and Restauteurs exceeded those expectations, and as a father of two girls, I found the entire event genuinely inspiring. Thank you to the organizers of WCR, and the folks at Wagstaff Worldwide, for including me.
For more from the Women Chefs and Restaurateurs 2016 National Conference, check out hashtag #offalowcr2016–the above is only about half of what I posted to Instagram!