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13 Women Behind The Kitchen Shift in Pittsburgh

Kitchen culture in Pittsburgh is changing as a new generation of women chefs takes leadership roles at some of the city’s best restaurants.



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Finn began cooking in local kitchens while in high school, working as a prep cook for renowned Pittsburgh chef Toni Pais at the now-closed Baum Vivant restaurant in Shadyside. She graduated in 2003 from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. and worked in restaurants in San Francisco and Maryland before returning to Pittsburgh in 2008 to open Dinette in East Liberty. Finn will open Café Carnegie at the Carnegie Museums in Oakland late this year or early 2017.

On women-owned businesses: “It’s always there [gendered resistance], but it’s no different than the day-to-day that any woman faces. You just work through it. I got a lot of unsolicited advice. But I’m pretty headstrong, so I ignored a lot of that just like I usually do. Sometimes it’s hard to power through that and just say that this is what I do, this is my money that I’m putting in, this is my vision, and I have a lot of experience as a chef so don’t tell me what to do.”

On the big picture: “In terms of seeing the national picture, it’s become clear that Pittsburgh is unique in that there are so many women involved in our local food movement. It sets us apart a little bit.”
 



 

George was still working an administrative job at UPMC when she decided to go to culinary school at Pennsylvania Culinary Institute at age 33. After graduating, George worked at Spoon for a year and a half before moving to Legume as a line cook. She ran the restaurant’s lunch service and now oversees the day-to-day operations of the restaurant’s kitchen with chef de cuisine Tom Lonardo; she also will oversee the kitchen of Legume’s sister restaurant Pie For Breakfast when it opens next year. 

On gendered behavior from her male counterparts: “I had more of an issue in the hospital being a woman than I do in the kitchen. I dealt with a lot of doctors, and [because] I was in my 20s I got looked down on as the little girl.”

On women running more kitchens: “With the shift to celebrity chef culture, it’s become less of a male-dominated field. Everybody is interested now, and it’s more accessible.”
 



 

Hegarty got her start in the industry as a cook at Wish You Were Here restaurant in Lancaster and went to pastry school at L’academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Md. That led to an externship and employment at Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore and then to Pittsburgh, where she worked at Dinette for two and a half years. Later, she worked as pastry chef at Bluebird Kitchen, was Rick Easton’s right hand at the former Bread & Salt Bakery and ran a series of popups at Spirit before taking on her latest role as chef de cuisine at Café Carnegie.

On opportunity: “It’s pretty recent in history that women had anything close to equal rights at all. It’s still not true that women have the same opportunities as men, but there’s more of that opportunity in cooking than in a lot of places.”

On unseen labor: “There are women all over the food business in Pittsburgh who are doing awesome work. Those things get overlooked all the time. Would it be the same if the husbands were home doing the paperwork and the organizational part of the business?” 
 

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