Philly's female chefs dish on getting a seat at the table

Supporting fellow women is key.
Jen Satinsky is a trained pastry chef as well as co-owner of Weckerly's. | Provided
Jen Satinsky is a trained pastry chef as well as co-owner of Weckerly's. Provided

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, we wanted to spotlight some of Philly’s female chefs and have them talk about their experiences as a woman in the restaurant industry. Their responses shed light on unique challenges faced by female culinary talent as well as how they overcome these challenges. They even offer advice for aspiring women in the restaurant industry as well as share who inspires them.


While all of their experiences are unique, a common thread is that at the end of the day, the most important thing is that women support each other.


Jen Satinsky
Co-owner of Weckerly’s and trained pastry chef

What's it like being a woman in the restaurant industry?
When I worked in fine dining, being a woman in the food industry was hard. I felt like I was always struggling to prove myself as a chef. I felt like I wasn’t always part of the kitchen crew because of my gender.

What are some unique challenges you face?
Back then, there was a lack of support from most managers when dealing with inappropriate behavior by my coworkers. The challenges I face now are balancing life and work.

How do you overcome these challenges?
I found the most support from other women chefs and front of the house staff.  Now that I own my own company I am happy to work with diverse companies that support women in the industry. As for work-life balance, we have an amazing staff and I feel confident delegating to them.

Who inspires you in your work?
I am inspired by all the farmers and chefs we work with.

Advice for aspiring females in the restaurant industry?
My advice to aspiring women in the food industry is to speak up if you feel mistreated and to support fellow women.

Weckerly’s is located at 9 W. Girard Ave.


Kelsey Bush
Executive Chef at Green Engine Coffee Company

What’s it like being a woman in the restaurant industry?
I’ve never thought of it that way. To me, I’m just living my life and doing what I’ve wanted to do since I was twelve years old.

What are some unique challenges you face?
Two unique challenges come to mind. Anything that’s not typically a woman’s role, like fixing things or building things, I’m stereotyped as not knowing anything. But I always joke that I don’t have a job title except problem-solver, and I’m really good at that. But when someone doesn’t know me, they assume I know nothing, and that’s frustrating. The other thing that’s tough is the perception of a woman as a manager isn’t the same as it is for men as managers. As a manager, you have to be the bad guy no matter what, because you’re setting expectations and upholding the restaurant’s reputation. But even if a woman and a man say the exact same thing, a man is a “hard-ass” while a woman is a “b—tch.” I don’t like that, because those terms give off vastly different perceptions.

How do you overcome these challenges?
A lot of it is just education, as far as making people aware that I know what I’m talking about. Then their attitudes change as they realize that I am competent, and they start talking to me as an equal instead of a child. As far as my managerial role, I think the attitudes of my employees change through my relationship with them over time.  

Who inspires you in your work?
My parents and my business partner. My parents never told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. They always told me I could do whatever I wanted to do. I was raised in farm country and building things all the time with my dad, who never thought not to teach me something because I was a girl. Also, I come from a line of very strong women who don’t take no for an answer. My business partner is one of the biggest feminists I’ve ever met. He’s seen inequality that the women in his life face, and he doesn’t want me to face that in our business relationship.

Advice for aspiring females in the restaurant industry?
Don’t let anyone deter you from what you want to do. There are always going to be people who try to hold you down, and you have to be strong enough to be your own person. Also, build each other up. Support other women within the industry because it’s hard. Don’t tear other women down because of our differences. We’re all different, but we should use those differences to build each other up.

Green Engine Coffee Company is located at 16 Haverford Station Rd., Haverford.


Ali Spahr
Executive pastry chef at Walnut Street Cafe

What's it like being a woman in the restaurant  industry?
The restaurant industry is a tough industry to be a part of regardless of gender.  Although I have heard stories of women being treated inappropriately in kitchens, I fortunately have not had that experience.  

What are some unique challenges you face?
One of the biggest challenges I face is establishing myself as an authority figure. Being a young and petite female chef, it seems to take people a minute to realize that I’m in a management position.

How do you overcome these challenges?
Although I’m aware of this challenge, I try not to focus too much of my attention on how others view me. Instead, I focus on bettering myself as a chef and a manager and let my efforts speak for themselves.

Who inspires you in your work?
Melissa Weller, our head baker at Walnut Street Café, is definitely someone I look up to as a strong female chef. It’s inspiring to see someone build such a successful career in this industry while still finding time for her family. I also have a group of pastry chef friends from various restaurants in Philadelphia who not only inspire me but also act as amazing support system.

Advice for aspiring females in the restaurant industry?
Don’t constantly compare yourself to your competition but rather use them as a source of inspiration.  You’re going to face some tough challenges working in this industry so don’t make it harder on yourself by making everything a competition.  Also, try to find some balance in your life. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on your career but you also deserve to have a life outside of the kitchen. Whether it’s a hobby or a great group of friends, it’s important to have a healthy outlet for stress relief.

Walnut Street Cafe is located at 2929 Walnut St.

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