11 Awesome (Female) Chefs Who Are Changing the World of Food

alice waters

Noteworthy chefs that we should all be talking about. And yes, they’re all women.

There has been a lot of talk in the last couple of years about the question of females in the restaurant industry. Namely: where the hell are they? With plenty of “hot chef” roundups online and in print, they’re most often comprised of men. While millions of women cook everyday in their kitchens at home, when it comes to the professional kitchens, there is certainly a disparity. But why?

That’s a complicated question. Some say it has to do with the way kitchens are run, and that maybe women are too smart to put themselves in the stressful, cutthroat environments that the restaurant industry is known for. Others blame it on the power dynamic, that the quintessential “boy’s club” makes it very difficult for women to break through. And then there is also the attitude that putting the word, “woman” in front of the word “chef” isn’t helping things at all, that even focusing on gender discredits the quality of the work in general.

But maybe it’s not about breaking the power dynamic, maybe it’s about changing the scene as a whole, moving from celebrity chef concoctions, to a simpler, more wholesome attitude to food. As Margot Henderson said in a recent talk at Copenhagen’s MAD Symposium, she’s looking for a world where “Platters groaning with unctuous flavors. When things are sticky and oozing and people are not afraid to gnaw on a bone. Food that is a celebration of the uniqueness of the occasion, the coming together of the season and the location…When there is food whose beauty is natural and simple and time-honored, and not contrived or distorted through tricks or manipulation. I am happiest when the ingredients speak for themselves.”

It’s hard to put together a top ten list, so this is instead a collection of female chefs who are leading the way in their respective industries, be it vegan cooking or slow food.

1. Alice Waters

The quintessential mother of the locavore, slow-food, farm-to-table movement, Alice Waters is well respected, and that respect is well deserved. She has won many awards, including James Beard’s Best Chef in America, and she’s Vice President of Slow Food International. Her cooking abilities have allowed her to get political, and when it comes to food politics, she’s a leader that we can all look to for inspiration.

2. Ann Sophie-Pic

Even though she had no formal culinary training, in 1997 Sophie-Pic took over her family’s restaurant, Maison Pic in Valence, France. She won back the Michelin stars (yes, three of them) and since then has become a leader in the French food world. She now also runs La Dame Pic in Paris, where she concocts things like chestnut cream soup, and is shaking up the male-dominated French institution of cooking.

3. Renee Loux

Launching a raw foods restaurant in Hawaii in the mid 1990s, Renee Loux has been at the forefront of the sustainable food movement. Now an instructor at Natural Gourmet Institute, Loux writes and teaches about food and continues to lead the way for environmental living and eating.

4. Christina Tosi

Even if you’ve never set foot inside of it, you’ve probably heard of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City, the bakery-inspired dessert branch of David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant group. As chef, owner and founder, Tosi has received numerous awards and has influenced pastry chefs across the country.

5. Naomi Pomeroy 

Legendary Portland restaurant Beast was opened by Naomi Pomeroy in 1997 and since then she has become a leader for the local, and national, food scene. Long before that she ran underground supper clubs out of her home, and that intimate eating experience is one she still cultivates at Beast, which seats 24 and serves a six-course prix fixed menu four times a week.

6. Gabrielle Hamilton

Opening New York City’s acclaimed restaurant Prune in 1999, Hamilton is also the author of the popular food memoir “Blood, Bones & Butter.” And she’s well spoken on the topic of women in the restaurant industry. As she wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times, “I am fully aware that I am not a God of Food but I am equally sure that I am not a dog on a leash. For me the most moving and powerful and creative act of courage of all is to fully live your life and do your work and offer all of yourself, even in the margin. Waiting to get on a list, working to get on a list — this is a time- and soul-suck with no good end. ”

7. Tamar E. Adler

While these days she spends most of her time writing, Tamar E. Adler is just as influential as chefs spending their days in professional kitchen. The author of “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace” (which if you have not read, please do so now), she was head chef at Farm 255 in Athens, Georgia and then moving on to Chez Panisse. A leader in the slow food movement, she has also worked as a cooking teacher at Edible Schoolyard NYC.

8. Andrea Reusing

Andrea Reusing is chef-owner of Lantern, a restaurant devoted to using local ingredients in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As an advocate for local and seasonal eating, she serves on the board of Center of Environmental Farming Systems and is the author of “Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes.”

9. Kate Jacoby

Along with her husband Rich Landau, Kate Jacoby is chef-owner of Vedge, one of the country’s most popular vegan restaurants. Leading the way in vegan cooking, the couple recently published their first book (named after the restaurant, of course) and their farm-to-table restaurant has become a top destination for vegetable lovers as well as omnivores.

10. Amanda Cohen

Chef-owner of Dirty Candy in New York City, Canadian-born Amanda Cohen is a woman that’s all about vegetarian cuisine, bringing meat-free cooking to the masses. As she calls it, Dirty Candy isn’t a vegetarian restaurant, but a “vegetable restaurant” making the space more of a “vegetable laboratory” where Cohen comes up with unique and inventive dishes. Before opening up her own place, she worked with renowned raw food chef Matthew Kenney.

11. Monica Pope

While Houston may not seem like an immediate hub of local cuisine, Monica Pope has been working hard to cultivate a scene that joins local farmers and consumers. Named Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine in 1996, she is the owner of the local-centric T’afia and is committed to engaging the community on food by teaching cooking classes to both adults and children.

Related on EcoSalon

11 Influential Eco-Chefs Who Are Changing the Way We Think About Food

Feminism in the Kitchen: Foodie Underground

5 Successful Women With Undeniable Leadership Skills

Image: David Sifry

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.