Powerful Women in Restaurants

By Donna Garlough | Boston Magazine |

Boston has a longstanding national reputation as a place where women chefs and restaurateurs can get ahead. Last November, Esquire’s tribute to “The Female Universe of Culinary Bostonians” spotlighted local food pros such as JODY ADAMS of Rialto; LYDIA SHIRE of Towne and Scampo; Oleana’s ANA SORTUN; restaurateur MICHELA LARSON; and dining-scene empress BARBARA LYNCH.

But what’s even more impressive than that lineup is that a new generation of women chefs are following in their footsteps — and becoming stars in their own right. JOANNE CHANG, once hired by Adams to whip up pastries at Rialto, is owner of three Flour bakery/cafés, and co-owner of Myers+Chang restaurant. The first printing of her new cookbook, Flour, sold out in two months. TIFFANI FAISON, hired by Larson at the South End’s Rocca, has appeared on two seasons of Top Chef and, now that Rocca has closed, is setting her sights on a solo venture.

So what is it, exactly, that makes our city so friendly to female chefs? Part of it is self-perpetuating. With so many women in the field, notes Sortun, up-and-comers don’t have to look far for role models. (She’s currently helping to catapult pastry chef MAURA KILPATRICK, with whom she opened Sofra Bakery and Café.)

Newcomers, too, have benefited from that support system. Chef PATRICIA YEO, who arrived in Boston in 2009 to helm the now-closed Ginger Park, notes that a chef’s gender isn’t a defining trait here. “In New York, there was only a handful of female chefs, so whenever anyone was writing a story on chefs and needed a token woman to include, you’d get a call,” she recalls. “It’s a different story here.”