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 4 of 5)
pastry chef, whitfield
Renee took a just-for-fun cooking class while working as an advertising buyer in New York City, and it inspired a career change. She trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute Cooking School, worked at some catering jobs and later landed a spot on the line at the celebrated restaurant Momofuku. Renee left New York to work at a farm in South Carolina, and then returned to New York to work at Momofuku Ko and as the pastry sous chef of Del Posto before moving back to Pittsburgh to run the pastry program at Whitfield.
On femininity in the kitchen: “It’s not a putdown to have a feminine touch or a feminine side. It’s OK to slow down and talk and ask people how they’re feeling. And that’s something that’s working its way through kitchens in general. I said something once pre-shift at Del Posto about how it’s OK to address your feelings, and everyone really agreed with that.”
On the holdouts: “Things are going to change. Some companies are still in the dark, but they’re going to have to recognize it sooner or later. Women are the next big thing. We’re getting our chance and I’m excited to be part of that.”
owner, black radish kitchen
Romane’s first job in the culinary world was at Enrico’s in the Strip District in the late 1990s, and she went to Bidwell Training Center to further her culinary education. After helping to open the cafe behind Enrico Biscotti, she spent time in Florida and Colorado before returning to Pittsburgh. Back in town, she worked as a caterer for All in Good Taste Productions before starting her own catering business in the Enrico’s kitchen. Romane opened e2 in Highland Park in 2010; the restaurant closed in October 2016. Romane soon will open Black Radish Kitchen in Point Breeze.
On feminism: “We’re part of the first generation of women who grew up with all of these options to be able do what we want. You can have a job and have a family and have a girlfriend because of the feminist generation in the ’70s. And working as a chef in the food-service industry is part of that.”
On a new style of leadership: “We’re part of this generation where we grew up eating better food, demanding better politics of our surroundings. We’re going to demand a different work climate, and that’s happening across the board. We’re starting to level out and moving away from a lot of patriarchal behavior. We’re changing the stigma of the kitchen. You have to start living in a healthier world and change the climate for your employees. You’ll burn out if you don’t make that change.”
executive chef, the vandal
Thackray was working as a social worker and headed toward a career as a lawyer when at age 22 she felt drawn to a more creative pursuit. She started doing prep work for Jamilka Borges, then the executive chef at Bar Marco — work that eventually led to a line-cook position when Borges found herself short-staffed. Eventually, Thackray became the restaurant sous chef, a position she held until she opened The Vandal in Lawrenceville in 2015.
On femininity in menu design: “On the by-and-large, and people might argue with me about this, I think you can look at a menu and see if it’s a woman or a man that’s running the kitchen. The most rudimentary way to look at it is to say there’s a technique drive in men and a completeness of a dish drive in women.”
On temperament: “There are days I want to scream and to lose my temper, but it’s different as a woman. You’re still seen as hormonal or as a bitch. So it forces you to take a more appropriate line of communication, to take a moment. I’ve gotten angry, but I’ve never lost my [temper] on somebody. But that makes the environment better. It’s easier to teach people to do better when you treat them like people.”