Powerful Women throughout Culinary History
By Christina Ossa
Volume 1 Issue 6
March 18, 2021
Image provided by the James Bear Foundation
The culinary industry, as with any other industry, has been known to favor men while pushing women off to the sidelines. Men have predominantly been more recognized and well-known throughout culinary arts while women who achieve just as respectable and amazing goals as men do not receive the same level of recognition. As we celebrate powerful women who have paved the way for the ambitious younger generations that exist today, here are a few extraordinary women who have made amazing progress throughout culinary history.
Buwei Yang Chao (1945):
Have you ever wondered how Chinese dishes such as the delicious “stir-fry” have become so widely popular in our country? Well, the best answer to that is because of the progress Buwei Yang Chao made in terms of having more Chinese cooking easily accessible to the U.S. population. She was born on November 25th, 1889, and in 1945 first coined the names of Chinese dishes like “stir-fry” and other recipes in her Chinese cookbook How to Cook and Eat in Chinese which was published in the U.S. While Chao did not even know how to speak English, with the help of her husband and daughter’s translations, she was able to make previously inaccessible Chinese dishes available to the wider English-speaking population. Earning critical acclaim from The New York Times who reportedly called it “an authentic account of the Chinese culinary system”, Chao was able to make a huge splash with her first Chinese cookbook while not even being able to speak the language of her audience! She continued her great influence on Chinese cooking-culture in the U.S. through her next Chinese recipe book called How to Order and Eat in Chinese to Get the Best Meal in a Chinese Restaurant. Chao’s story is extremely inspiring, especially for women of color who have similar situations to Chao and wish to achieve great feats in the culinary industry. Buwei Yang Chao not only influenced Chinese cuisine in the United States to the point it has achieved today but also paved the way for future generations of young Chinese and other minority girls to achieve their dreams of finding success in the culinary industry.
Ruth Fertel (1965):
Ruth Fertel was a single mother who had high ambitions and a courageous personality which helped her to achieve her culinary goals. She was born February 5th, 1927, and is the founder of Ruth’s Chris Steak House which today is an extremely well-established restaurant chain known for its delicious, juicy steaks. Aspiring to send her sons to college in 1965, Fertel took a risk and bought a restaurant for sale in New Orleans where she opened Chris’ Steak House. After finding success with her locals, one local in particular named Thomas Moran was handed the Ruth’s Chris franchise which he expanded by opening several other locations which today stands at 80 different locations. Until Fertel became ill in 1999, she continued her powerhouse journey in the culinary industry and found great success as an extremely successful franchise owner. So, if you ever find yourself near a Ruth’s Chris Steak House, location now you know the history behind Ruth Fertel’s inspiring career. While Ruth is no longer with us, she will continue to be an inspiring role model for younger generations and older generations looking to establish a career in the culinary industry.
Susan Feniger/Mary Sue Milliken (1999):
When Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken first settled as chefs into the Las Vegas strip, it was primarily marketed toward men and had a predominantly male workspace. Feniger was born in 1953 and Mary Sue Milliken was born in 1958, and this powerful duo began their careers in Chicago at the restaurant Le Perroquet. After their time at Le Perroquet, they chose to join together in LA which led them to achieve outstanding goals with one another. They’ve led extremely successful careers since their kick-off in the 1970s, and have won awards from the James Beard and Julia Child Foundations, Food Network shows, have had radio appearances, and even a Top Chef Masters win. But one of their most influential feats was when they opened their Mexican restaurant Border Grill in the Las Vegas Strip during 1999, which as I mentioned before was a male-dominated area. However, they experienced great success becoming the first women to run an extremely and high-profile restaurant on the strip. This duo also began their own foundation to encourage women to continue achieving great accomplishments in the culinary world, named the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs and Chefs Collaborative. 15 years after the duo’s achievements, Giada de Laurentiis and today Lorena Garcia, the first Latina to open a restaurant on the strip, established highly successful restaurants on the strip as well. Feniger and Milliken’s achievements throughout their careers have certainly paved way for new generations of women and younger girls to establish their careers in the culinary industry and their achievements will continue to influence young women to chase their dreams!