James Beard Foundation: Pioneers & Legends

Esendemir Sisters James Beard House Pioneers & Legends

We had the pleasure of attending a dinner at the James Beard House (home of the James Beard Foundation) that was held in partnership with the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs Association. The event was called ‘Pioneers and Legends’. It featured an amazing line-up of female chefs who are at the top of their culinary game. For us personally, it is always inspiring to experience the work or interact with women in the food service industry because it’s such a rare occurrence to find strong, smart, and skilled ladies who cook, own, or operate anything related to restaurants. Restaurant work is so physically, emotionally, and mentally draining on so many levels. Whether you work the kitchen line or front house- it’s a non-stop, adrenaline-filled, overwhelming (and sometimes frustrating) rush of pressure and exhilarating challenge of trying to satisfy so many different types of people from so many different walks of life. It is a labor-intensive endeavor that requires focus, passion, and dedication. It is also an endeavor that many women do not undertake, so thus, the food service industry is populated with more men than women. It was refreshing to see so many talented women in one room who have had the courage and passion to pursue careers in the culinary world and have not backed down from earning their rightful place at the top.

Esendemir Sisters James Beard House Pioneers & Legends

The talented Chefs putting work in

All the women at this event exemplified culinary mastery and have more than likely had to endure their own share of gender stereotypes, difficulties, and boundary pushing experiences to earn their place at the top. They are a group that shows strength, intelligence, devotion, commitment to their industry, and passion for their art. It was truly an honor to support them and experience a piece of their creation. Someone said to us the other day that cooking food for people requires love and purity of heart. She was right. These are all lovely women who no doubt love their work, but love humanity enough to commit themselves to open flame cooking, late nights toiling over their work, and sacrificing so much to fill people’s bellies, entice palates, and create art. Though all these wonderful and acclaimed chefs had the brightest, most beautiful smiles on their faces for the evening, there is no doubt behind them a laundry list of hard work, tough learning experiences, and a struggle to come so far in their professional and personal journey. Along with their impressive achievements, there is more than likely a handful of difficulties that they collectively endured because of their sex. Kudos and much respect to them for all their hard work and perseverance (and for being able to throw down in a kitchen better than most male chefs). It was a pleasure listening to Elizabeth Falkner’s speech about being a female chef because so much of what she said resonated with us on a personal level, particularly the part about not seeking attention (when really we should be seeking attention).

Esendemir Sisters James Beard House Pioneers & Legends

The Line-Up & Menu For Pioneers & Legends at the James Beard House

What we have personally experienced and learned in the food service industry is that women do have to work much harder than men and pay much closer attention to their work because we are such easy targets for criticism. Our mere sex leaves us vulnerable to be judged, critiqued, and analyzed in a way men, no matter what industry they are working in, do not experience. There is no room for error or slacking when you are a women chef. Your culinary skills are always under close observation and there are a multitude of other things people bring into play when critiquing your work. It’s not just about the food when you are a women. Everything and anything, other than your cuisine and cooking skills are up for criticism when you are a women. People judge you for your lifestyle, your mission, your relationship status, what your stand for, and all your career choices and decisions. Thus, you learn how to break through barriers and overcome obstacles while simultaneously challenging stereotypes and double standards. You learn how to gracefully bring the attention back to what you create and how you execute your creation. It was inspiring to see a group of women being honored and respected for their skills. These women are considered pioneers because they have paved the way for other female chefs by boldly taking the risks and chances that have no doubt opened up doors for other women in the culinary industry. Pioneers are always the risk-takers and the ones who put themselves out there to explore, to change the game, and to innovate. All of the chefs on the roster for this wonderful event have done just that in their own way. May they continue to inspire and pave the way for other women in this industry. 

Esendemir Sisters James Beard House Pioneers & Legends

Table Set-Up James Beard House

All in all, it was a delicious and memorable experience. Now, we can finally cross attending a James Beard House dinner off of our bucket list!

Special thanks to Dan Rowe of FranSmart for setting the evening up for us.

The list of chefs who participated in this event are as follows:
Kathleen Blake: The Rusty Spoon, Orlando, FL
Elizabeth Falkner: WCR President, NYC
Susan Feniger: Border Grill Restaurants and Truck, Los Angeles and Las Vegas; and Mud Hen Tavern, Los Angeles
Mary Sue Milliken: Border Grill Restaurants and Truck, Los Angeles; and Las Vegas
Jamie Leeds: Hank’s Oyster Bar, Washington, D.C.
Emily Luchetti; The Cavalier, Marlowe, and Park Tavern, San Francisco
Susan Spicer: Bayona and Mondo, New Orleans
Anne Rosenzweig: NYC

**The chefs’ restaurants, bios, and social media profiles are available via the event’s website: http://www.jamesbeard.org/events/pioneers-and-legends. Please check these women out and support their culinary journeys!

**The Women Chefs & Restaurateurs Association is an organization dedicated to promoting, educating, supporting, and advancing women in the culinary world. Check them out online: http://www.womenchefs.org. They also have a conference coming up in April that sounds amazing, so please check that out as well via their website.

Please see our visual diary below of this delicious evening. There was an intriguing and very unique menu of five course created by the talented chefs, as well as a plethora of tasty wines to compliment each course. It was a magnificent culinary journey and we feel so fortunate to have experienced it!

A note on photos: The James Beard House has very low-lighting and we didn’t want to use flash to disrupt the evening. The food photos were tweaked to preserve the integrity and beauty of the food, while remaining as true to form as possible. Enjoy!

6 Comments
  1. Julius 3 years ago

    Good stuff! You ladies look so stunning and it looks like a good time was had. Many blessings to you 3. I’ve been following you awhile on insta. You are very inspiring. keep up the good work. May God Bless! – J

  2. Jolene 3 years ago

    It looks like you all had a great time! The food looks YUMMY!

  3. Esther Rodriguez 3 years ago

    Very nice post I am an aspiring food blogger and I look up to you girls so much been following you since day 1

  4. Lily 3 years ago

    You are right about the pressure and stress that everyone feels in the kitchen. I worked as a sou chef in a busy restaurant for a while and 8pm til 11pm each night were crazily hectic and rushed.. iT feels great to of accomplished it at the end of the day though 🙂

    I haven’t heard of The Women Chefs & Restaurateurs Association before, I will look into it more now, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  5. Felicia Comrade 3 years ago

    It makes me hungry just thinking about it. While I have never met the man, I know that James Beard and the foundation have supported several worthy causes in my city, by putting on a variety of dinner events. I think that is rather splendid.
    One thing that always amazes me is the prejudice that apparently exists in the world of culinary arts. Why? After all I would suppose that most of these men grew up eating their mother’s cooking! I is magnificent to read about the women you met at the event and all of the good that the sisters are doing to clear the air and help to dissolve the glass ceiling….better to smash it!

  6. Andrea Robinson 3 years ago

    My goodness, this is so inspirational! You really nailed it when you described the atmosphere of the food service industry – so stressful, backbreaking, demanding, (yes, exciting,) and yet so artful, so delicious. It is no wonder that women have backed away from the industry, especially considering that even chefs at home are so underappreciated.

    These women have really stepped out and made culinary ventures an art form as well as viable businesses. I only have respect and admiration for women that can pull this off. My own experience informs my appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes and how miraculous it is that they can do this year after year.

    Kudos to both of you for presenting this diary of the event! And I’m so gratified that the James Beard Foundation honored these ladies.

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