As soon as Cherry Bombe Magazine announced their inaugural Jubilee (which took place Sunday, March 30th), I became obsessed with going. I own both issues of the biannual magazine, and they are exactly what a magazine about women in the food world should be. Not only is Cherry Bombe beautiful, it contains interviews with female chefs and entrepreneurs that actually focus on their talents, not how much they weigh. The event was billed as a day long celebration of women and food and a response to the conversation brought about by the catastrophic Gods of Food TIME issue.
It was exactly that and more.
First of all, the choice of venue was simply perfect. The High Line Hotel in Chelsea is a beautifully restored theological seminary that dates from 1817. Several participants remarked that they felt like they were in Hogwarts. I took the wrong elevator and got lost twice, so I felt like I was in an M.C. Escher painting.
And of course the food was good.
I situated myself at a tall table and began to drink my green juice from Organic Avenue and when I looked up I noticed that CHEF ELIZABETH FALKNER was at the same table, introducing herself to everyone as if she was just a human being, not a pastry god from on high. The conversation turned to doughnuts, and then doughnut beer, and then I grossed out everyone at the table (Chef Falkner included) by telling them about Beard Beer. Classic Claire.
At around 10:45, we were welcomed to the event by the founders of Cherry Bombe: Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu. What followed after that was a day of honesty and inspiration. Every speaker was educational, but most of the highlights for me came during the panels and discussions (regrettably, I can't cover every single talk, but all speakers did a fantastic job).
I didn't think I could like Chef Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar more than I already did, but she proved me wrong by sharing the name of one of her walk-in refrigerators.
All the points to Christina.
Her warmth and enthusiasm was apparent during her talk entitled "Be the Change" in which she stressed the importance of working hard and being true to yourself. "Passion, creativity, and open-mindedness have to win," she urged. She ended her talk by proclaiming that we "really get to choose how we exist in this industry."
Getting Your Clog in the Door was a panel comprised of April Bloomfield, Katie Button, Sara Kramer, and Anita Lo, and moderated by Charlotte Druckman. (No big deal, just a bunch of my favorite people.) Topics discussed included staging (which Chef Lo later clarified was the French word for interning), length of time chefs expect employees to remain at their restaurants (the agreed minimum was a year), and the best way to leave the employ of another chef and set out on your own.
The entire panel was educational and enlightening, but the highlight for me was when Chef Button called out women (herself included) for the repeated use of the word "lucky" when describing their path to success: "Women keep repeating the word 'lucky,' she said, "but no one would here without drive, skill, passion and professionalism."
The crowd went wild.
The message from this panel was clear: just do what you want. It may sound overly simplistic, but that was what every single one of these women did. Before opening opening Café Patachou, Martha Hoover was a sex crimes prosecutor with absolutely no restaurant experience. She now heads a successful restaurant group. Chef Mistry wanted to cook Indian street food and started doing so out of liquor store lunch window. She now owns and runs the Juhu Beach Club in Oakland, California.
When asked by Katie Lee what "one thing" the panelists wish they had known before begining their respective career paths, Jeni Britton Bauer remarked, "If I had known how much it would take, I wouldn't have done it." Martha Hoover added that diving into the "deep end" of the pool was the way to go.
Chef Mistry added (quite practically): "Plumbing costs. So many plumbing costs," and then alluded to a gross grease trap story which I later convinced her to tell me because I'm a strange one.
Chefs & The Media: A Love Story? (moderated by Elettra Wiedermann) was one of the most entertaining panels, if only for Chef Kristen Kish's quote on why her mentor, Chef Barbara Lynch, was left out of the now infamous Gods of Food debacle: "I think she was overlooked because the writer was an asshole."
Chef Amanda Cohen then told a story about that writer (Howard G. Chua-Eoan) coming into Dirt Candy, being mistaken by her staff for a homeless man, and requesting a reservation. After being denied (due to the fact that they were completely booked), Howard explained who he was and said "You told me I should get out more; so I'm getting out more."
She told him she still didn't have an opening.
Also participating on the panel were Amanda Kludt of Eater and the LEGENDARY Mimi Sheraton, who had not one damn to give in the most delightful way possible. Both women agreed that when writing about and critiquing food, it's not an option to be BFF with chefs. Mimi expressed her initial dismay at the title of the panel, and clarified for any doubters that it most definitely was "not a love story." Amanda Kludt added that she was "friendly," while motioning to Amanda Cohen, "but not friends," with any chefs as it results (and has resulted in) many awkward phone calls.
While discussing food critics and writers, Chef Kish noted that though her personality and personal life have been written about extensively, no one has reviewed her food. "People who say they are big fans of my food have never tasted it." At the end of the panel, Kish had the last remark: "Someone review my food," and then tapped her microphone to make sure the critics in the audience could hear her.
The last panel with Gabrielle Hamilton and Suzanne Goin was moderated by the executive editor of Bon Appétit, Christine Muhlke, and was a hilarious, realistic conversation about motherhood and work. Christine Muhlke (who wanted me to tell Jane she was a Class of '92 Sassy Intern!) moderated over half of the panel with her baby strapped to her. "Proof that you can do it all," she said, while taking her seat.
None of the vague "kids are hard, but it's worth it" BS was served, only realistic, pragmatic advice. Chef Hamilton said that the key to being a chef and a mother was being your own boss: "You have to be the owner of your own restaurant," she said.
Chef Goin explained that "You have to be crazy, and realize that you're not doing any part of it perfectly."
While both chefs agreed that running a kitchen prepared them for having a family, they both shared some rough anecdotes that demonstrated how hard it was to balance the two:
Chef Goin told a story about coming home to a distressed nanny. "She said she had something to tell me that she didn't want to tell me." Chef Goin's son had been sad at bed time, and when questioned about it had said "Some people don't have nannies, they have moms."
Every heart in the room was broken.
Chef Hamilton: "My son went to school with a knife and a twenty dollar bill."
Hamilton also noted the importannce of redefining expectations "I wanted to learn Italian! I wanted a better ass! Not this year," she said.
When asked if "balance" was "one thousand percent bullshit," Chef Hamilton answered "I think so." Chef Goin noted that "chefs don't have balanced lives anyway."
When I talked to Chef Goin later, she seemed worried that the panel had been too depressing. I told her that I appreciated the honesty and that the panel had not dissuaded me from having kids. It did confirm my suspicion that I didn't want to be a chef, however.
She also expressed her concern over our increasingly two-tier food system. "Poor people are eating things that are cheaper than food. We have the most inexpensive food in the world."
She added that "eating is a learned behavior," and that it's our responsibility to teach people how to eat.
On "why there aren't more famous female chefs," she said that "Maybe women are looking for something different...We should change the model of what we consider successful." She also expressed the importance of community and urged everyone to start talking more about what restaurants can be for people.
This concluded an extremely action-packed day. Cherry Bombe set out to create a day that revolved around worthwhile conversations, networking, women, and food. With over three hundred attendees, all of which looked pleased by my estimation, I would say it was a runaway success.
TIME editor Howard Chua-Eoan defended "that issue" by saying "It's all men because men still take care of themselves. The women really need someone — if not men, themselves actually — to sort of take care of each other." While I doubt that was ever the problem, Jubilee is as far as anyone need look to see women in the food world taking care of each other. There was no cliqueness, no cattiness. Famous chefs and respected editors talked not only to each other, but to "regular" attendees. Everyone in attendance was kind, supportive, and inclusive.
You can keep your boys club, Howard. The girls are going to be just fine.