‘‘Good ingredients and intense, true flavors” are what inspire Kierin Baldwin, head pastry chef at The Dutch. They’re also what make a successful chef. We spoke to three of New York’s top female chefs about the passion, dedication, and sacrifice required to excel in a male-dominated industry.
Advice for female chefs
All chefs recommend working in a kitchen for at least a year. “Don’t call in sick, don’t show up late, don’t goof off,” says chef Amanda Cohen, owner of vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy. “If you put in the work, your technique will support you for the rest of your life.” Baldwin’s advice for male pastry cooks? “Don't be too cocky. ... This is the same advice I give women, though.”
The strength to be flexible
Success in a professional kitchen requires long hours, often very early or late, making it difficult to see loved ones who work or go to school during the day. “You have to be at peace with it,” chef Baldwin says, “or you will never be happy in this profession.”
Flexibility is also crucial. Early in her career, vegetarian chef Cohen (pictured) occasionally prepared meat. “I cooked by smell, touch and sound, and judging by how popular my buffalo wings were, it worked.” She now eats a bit of seafood. “You have to taste the competition to stay competitive.”
“We lose a lot of women because they want or need to be caretakers in their families,” says Anita Lo, industry veteran and executive chef and owner of Annisa (“women” in Arabic). While pastry cooking draws more women than men, ranks dwindle at the management level for the same reason.
But chef Lo notices that more women are balancing work and home. Lo, who exemplified grit when she rebuilt Annisa after a kitchen fire in 2009, draws inspiration from her mother, a doctor. “She worked very hard, making a quarter of what my father did for the same job.” Still, says Lo, “she came home after working 15 hours a day and cooked for us.”