The Women Chefs & Restauranteurs Conference

Posted on February 20, 2013 By

Between the holidays, travel schedules and preparing for several speeches, my life feels a little full. That said, I want to share a recent day in San Francisco at the Women’s Chef & Restauranteurs Conference whose theme was, Celebrating our Roots. Creating Our Future.

I so enjoyed the day I spent speaking to and hanging out with these women. What an incredible group; inspiring, creative and incredibly talented. The organizers asked me last year if I would be willing to give the keynote speech to open their general session. They felt that my many years in the food industry, the pioneering work with organics and educating others about the value of organic food was a great fit for their 20th anniversary… and 20 years ago Newman’s Own Organics was also born, so we all had a bit in common!

I must say that it was one of the most interesting speaking engagements I’ve ever done and the dinner we had a the SF ferry building was out of this world!  These women were truly my heroes and it was such pleasure to meet them all.

No matter where we were as a child, my parents always made meals together a priority, which is why  I was always so interested in food. We either cooked at home together, or ate in interesting restaurants. Before long, I took over the role of the family cook during the holidays and I’ve been obsessed with food ever since.

Being a chef and a woman isn’t an easy career path. The industry has historically been populated primarily by men. Additionally and for many years, only a male perspective was acknowledged or accepted in the culinary industry. Twenty years ago, a group of female chefs got together and founded the Women Chefs & Restauranteurs (WCR) in an effort to level the playing field and establish the value of female chefs and restaurant owners. Every year this growing group of women got together to network and mentor one and other, so that after 20 years the conference was brimming with about 500 women! Giving the keynote to them was a complete honor.

The founders were all there, aside from Barbara Tropp who sadly, passed away last year. They spoke in a panel where the nuts and bolts of the beginnings of their group were expressed. They gave an oral history of the WCR, sighting issues of women working in the culinary industry, equality challenges, even how the traditional clothing for chefs didn’t work for a woman’s body. They shared the triumphs and challenges but also how the WCR offered tremendous support for women to remain in the industry even though it was such an uphill battle at times.

Barbara was the owner and operator of the famed China Moon Cafe as well as the author of two books on Chinese cooking, her specialty (click here for a fascinating article about her from 1999). Not only was she an amazing chef; she was a scholar and her food reflected that knowledge. In the late ’80′s I had the pleasure of eating at the China Moon Cafe and shared my experience with the attendees of the speech I gave to the members of the WCR.. She was precise, logical and a matchmaker of brilliant woman who took the time to create the WCR, regardless of her tremendous work load. She was the main topic of conversation in this panel as they memorialized their dear friend. They all reflected how Barbara had gathered them together over 20 years ago to suggest her idea that they should all slow down a bit and  translate to other women, what they were doing in their careers that contributed to their successes. She wanted to reach into other women’s lives to mentor their own greatness & encourage more women into the culinary field. For over an hour, we heard stories of Barbara’s life, her impact on others and just how remarkable a woman she was..

Given the large group of women from all over the country that were in attendance, I believe Barbara and the founding members of the WCR, succeeded in their dream!

All in all it was just amazing to be a part of this, but the evening Gala that was sponsored by Bon Appetit Management Company was simply beyond words. They had decorated the top floor of the ferry building with lights, long sparkling tables and seats for hundreds of women to enjoy course after course of absolutely “beyond belief” food made by a several of the chefs in attendance.. (The contributing chefs were: Annie Somerville of Greens, Loretta Keller of COCO500, Traci Des Jardins, Jardiniere and Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill Restaurants, Suzette Gresham, Acquerello and Emily Luchetti, Farallon & Waterbar.)

The MC’s for the event were the Too Hot Tamales, of the Food Network fame, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. They kept us all in stitches as they handed out awards for “Women Who Inspire” winners. I’d first met Mary Sue and Susan when my business partner, Peter Meehan & his wife, took me to The Border Grill when they were living in Los Angeles, some 25 years ago. I’ve loved their food, (and them), ever since my first taste. My only wish is that they had a restarant closer by. We’d go more often!

After sharing the night with my good friend and celebrity chef, Jesse Ziff Cool of The Flea Street Cafe and CoolEatz, I tumbled back to my hotel room and watched the lights of the city slowly flicker off. It was a great day, an incredible night and one of those events that you feel good about being a part of once they are finished.



Founding members of the Women Chefs and Restauranteurs

Lidia Bastianich, co-owner of Felidia and Becco, New York, Elka Gilmore, chef, San Francisco, Joyce Goldstein, author/restaurant and food consultant, San Francisco, Johanne Killeen, co-owner of Alforno, Providence, RI, Barbara Lazaroff, owner of Spago Beverly HIlls & Imaginings Interior Design, CA, Mary Sue Milliken, co-owner of Ciudad & Border Grill, Santa Monica, CA, Anne Rosenzweig, owner of Inside, New York, Barbara Tropp, author/chef/consultant, San Francisco (deceased)


Nell Newman, the co-founder of Newman’s Own Organics, daughter of Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward and long time social activist shares her insight on sustainable agriculture, organic food, delicious recipes and ideas for living a joyful, sustainable life…


  1. Michael Stewart on Wed, 27th Feb 2013 10:27 pm 

    Hi Nell – Speaking of notable Women Chefs & Restauranteurs…

    I wanted to mention my favorite new place up here in Marin County at the Marin Country-Mart, called “El Huarache Loco” – which was launched by female Chef Salazar in 2005 from La Cocina’s incubator kitchen in San Francisco’s Mission District.

    You could not get yummier or more authentic tasting food in Mexico City, and I take my family there almost every weekend to get the best breakfast Chilques in the bay area. The ingredients are typical Marin fare too – meaning mostly organic, local, sustainable…

    Even more impressive, Chef Salazar started La Cocina with no experience owning a formal business, and very little English – just a belief in herself and her food.

    You can check out more of her story here:

    Next time you’re in SF with a couple hours to spare – come across the GG Bridge and lets get lunch!

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