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.
(page 3 of 5)
Co-chef and co-owner, apteka
Lasky took her first kitchen position while still in high school, preparing vegetarian dishes at Make Your Mark Artspace and Coffeehouse in Point Breeze. “I got to make whatever specials I wanted to. That started the creative cooking process for me,” she says. Lasky worked there through college, but she left the restaurant world for graduate school. She and partner Tomasz Skowronski started the Pierogi Night popup series in 2010, and Lasky also worked as a line cook at Root 174 before opening Apteka with Skowronski in 2016. The two run the kitchen and the business as a pair.
On inspiration: “I worked alongside a guy for those six years [at Make Your Mark] who quickly became one of my very best friends, who was wildly creative, assertive and passionate. Aaron Coady, more widely known as Sharon Needles, is now an incredibly successful drag queen. In a big way, his confidence and self-assertion had an impact on how I saw the space I could hold in the world. When we’re talking about this industry that has historically been poorly supportive of women, this confidence can be crucial.”
On kitchen culture: “My ideal is that a woman running the kitchen is the same thing as a man running the kitchen. You assume strong leadership, you set the standards as you need to and make sure that your creative voice is executed with every place.”
executive chef/owner, carota café
Lewis didn’t plan on working in a restaurant kitchen. After a successful turn as a student-athlete at the University of Virginia, Lewis decided to work in finance in Philadelphia. The death of a friend then prompted a career change and led to enrollment in the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. She externed at Abigail Kirsch at Chelsea Piers and then took a job at STK Kitchen in midtown Manhattan — where she eventually would become junior sous chef. Lewis worked as the catering sous chef at Heinz Field and as a sous chef at The Commoner in the Hotel Monaco, Downtown, before opening Carota Café at Smallman Galley.
On old-school kitchens vs. contemporary kitchen culture: “Most of the male chefs I worked for were very old-school. Because of my background as an athlete, I fell in line with the way those kitchens were run. There’s discipline, there’s pushing yourself to the limit all the time. But I’ve also let go of a lot of the bad [management] habits you learn in those kitchens.”
On dealing with gendered pushback: “When I first moved here I worked in a union kitchen at Heinz Field. The guys there are all older, they don’t care what you say, constantly compared me to their granddaughters. But I’m your boss, and you can’t cross the line and say things that belittle someone in my position.”
head butcher, legume
Butchery is in Maze’s lineage: her grandfather founded the family-run Smith Provisions, a meat-processing business in Erie, Pa., in 1927. Maze worked there in high school, and she also worked at a sub shop in college before embarking on a restaurant career that eventually led to a sous chef job at Soba. After five years there, she joined the team at Legume as a line cook in 2012, left in 2013 for position at Cypress in Charleston, S.C., and returned to Legume in 2015.
On gender and mentorship: “I’ve been fortunate to work for very good people, male and female. My first two chefs were female. I never noticed any gender role in the kitchen as such. There were other women in the kitchen, and everyone was expected to do their jobs. Then I came here, and Trevett [Hooper, executive chef and co-owner of Legume] has a lot of women in the kitchen, too.”
On why there is more opportunity for women chefs: “I see the trend, but I’m not exactly sure why. When I got into it, that was something already in place. There were already women there as mentors and people to look up to. The kitchen culture overall has gotten more notoriety. People look at chefs as celebrities now. So maybe it’s just that people are finally noticing.”