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Eat. Drink. Empower.'s Female Chefs on Women in Restaurant Kitchens

Executive Chef Erica Beneke of Max's Wine Dive has organized a benefit dinner this Saturday, August 24 entitled "Eat. Drink. Empower." Described as a "celebration of female chefs," the event will benefit SafePlace. Tickets can be purchased here.

The Chronicle spoke with Chef Beneke earlier this week, where she shared the menu. Eater asked the participants to contribute their take on "the state of female chefs in Austin." Abby Yates of Swift's Attic says that, "I've never thought of myself as a chick in the kitchen," while Sway's Alexis Chong says that at times she's dealt with an outdated "good ole boys club" mentality. Searsucker's Kenzie Allen points out that "the drive has to be there," while Perla's Hannah Love took inspiration from a female mentor who was "a powerhouse in authority and ability." Organizer Erica Beneke relates the story of a fellow link cook telling her, "'the only future you have in food service is waitressing at Hooter's.'" She enjoys,"how wrong I am proving him on a daily basis."

Update! Bridget Bishop's thoughts have been incorporated as well.

Kenzie Allen, Sous Chef, Searsucker

"I went into the industry because I love cooking. Plain and simple. There were easier routes I could've gone, but since I was little, I've always been intrigued by this industry. It came naturally and the passion was there from the start. As far as more women joining the industry, I think it just depends on the person. It's more common to have women in the kitchen, but the drive has to be there.

"I was lucky and started my career in a great place. I was surrounded by really talented people, both men and women. They really helped me see what this industry is about. There are a handful of extremely talented female chefs, many of whom are well known in Austin and other cities. So, for me, I honestly am grateful for all the people that have helped me along the way."

Hannah Love, Pastry Chef, Perla's and Clark's Oyster Bar

"My first experience in a kitchen was under an amazing woman chef named Kate. She was very petite in stature but a powerhouse in authority and ability. She displayed strength in every facet of being an executive chef. It was very endearing being a young woman in a kitchen. My current executive chef, Natalie Gazaui, displays the same empowering feminine authority and abilities. The strength of a woman in the kitchen is fantastic. The ability to abolish any gender discrimination while maintaining composure and level of dignity that must be called feminine is mesmerizing. And powerful.

"I don't think it's about what Austin offers women chefs, it's that the people of Austin love good food, and have no qualms about what gender cooks it up for them. Austin is welcoming to everyone and I have felt nothing but acceptance and a solid "hell yeah" attitude in regards to my pursuit of knowledge and experience as a women in the kitchen in my home town. I'm very lucky to have been able to work for some amazing women thus far and I am inspired to continue to display that strength and be a woman to reckon with in the culinary world here in Austin."

Alexis Chong, Chef de Cuisine, Sway

"For me, some of the barriers I have faced in other states was lack of understanding that this is no longer the 'good ole boys club' any more. I moved here almost four years ago and started from the bottom and have worked hard to push forward. I have a 'learn as you go everyday' kind of mentality. There is nowhere else I could see myself working other than a kitchen.

"I have always had a love of food. In my family I was raised to know the 'heart of the home is in the kitchen', so I chose to follow my heart. My intention straight out of high school was to choose a path that would enable me to follow my dreams of amazing food, and the potential to travel. I have found the amazing food portion and now am looking forward to the travel side to build and expand my knowledge."

Abby Yates, Sous Chef, Swift's Attic

"I think as women in the kitchen we can't put too much emphasis on being 'women in the kitchen'. We all are working towards a common goal: cranking out amazing food and having an awesome time preparing it. I've never thought of myself as a chick in the kitchen, I've always thought of myself as a cook. I've never had to work harder or overcome any hardships because I was a female. I've wanted to work harder and work past my shortcomings because I genuinely love what I do and want to be the best I can at it. I want my nieces to look at me as a role model and know they can do anything they set their minds to. On that same note, we will always encounter a bit of sexism in the kitchen, especially as leaders, and all we can do is brush it off and continue being our awesome selves.

"Why did I decide to to go into the restaurant industry? I think like a lot of chefs before me, I didn't choose this industry, it chose me. I started working in a kitchen because I needed a job in high school, and realized after my first week of serving that those dudes in the kitchen were having WAY more fun. My father was always a butcher, and my grandparents had a farm, so working with food just seemed like a natural choice. The longer I work at it, it seems less like a job and more like hanging out with my friends being creative- what's not to love about that?"

Bridget Bishop, Sous Chef, Westwood Country Club

I believe being a woman in a professional kitchen is only a barrier if you make it that way. Working in kitchens in not an easy profession. It takes a lot of passion, ambition and labor to become successful. I am definitely a stronger person from working back of the house, and am forever grateful for all my chef mentors I've had along the way. I've found that if you love what you do, and work hard to create amazing food, then the gender barrier goes unnoticed.

My first job was a prep cook at a restaurant in my hometown. My chef was a yeller, and I often got the brunt of it. I learned from the very beginning that this profession was not going to be easy, but I sure had fun. It's not a career for the weak or light hearted, but that's what makes it rewarding. There's never a dull moment, and if you are willing to work hard, the restaurant industry is an amazing rollercoaster ride.

Erica Beneke, Executive Chef, Max's Wine Dive

"There is an incredible amount of culinary talent in this city and in the four years that I've been in Austin, it has reached a whole new level of awesomeness. Much of the talent does consist of female chefs but so many of them are very behind the scenes and a lot of folks are not aware of them. Working in kitchens is a tough life no matter who you are and I've fought my fair share of battles to get where I am. None of it has been easy but I've always been good at turning the doubt of other's into motivation. I do credit the "haters" for helping me to get where I am today. I still think about a conversation I had with a fellow line cook when I was in high school in which he told me that "the only future you have in food service is waitressing at Hooter's." It gives me some sense of satisfaction to know how wrong I am proving him on a daily basis.

"I saw a gap in the food community in Austin for this type of event and was asked several times why I thought that was and rather than answer, I did something about it. The support from the community that we've seen through the planning has been unbelievable and I'm so excited for Saturday night!"

· Eat. Drink. Empower Dinner Benefits SafePlace [Chronicle]
· All Max's Wine Dive Coverage [-EATX-]

Clark's Oyster Bar

1200 West 6th Street, , TX 78703 (512) 297-2525 Visit Website

MAX's Wine Dive

696 Sherman Street, , CO 80203 (303) 593-2554 Visit Website