The future is female.

From dining locales like Frasca Food and Wine and those in Big Red F restaurant family to national publicity with shows such as Top Chef and culinary publications like Bon Appetit Magazine, Colorado’s dining scene has taken off over the last few years, marking itself as a culinary hotspot on the nation’s food map. Some might say it’s due to our access to a plethora of fresh, local ingredients, our state’s expansion giving ways to beautiful restaurant openings, our great work-life balance or just that good ol’ fresh Colorado mountain air. Whatever the reason may be, one thing that can be agreed upon is it takes more than just high-quality ingredients and a beautiful spot to a “great-food-city-make.” There’s dedication, hard work and—often times—blood, sweat and tears from the teams behind these venues.

It’s the chefs, executive chefs, chef de cuisines, butchers and even pastry chefs that make that all that Colorado food magic happen. In a previous time, one might assume these people were mainly strong, hardworking and persistent men, but this is 2018, and the tables have turned. As they say, after all, the future is female.

From sous chefs and CEOs to butchers and chef de cuisines, these women have been helming some of the Mile High City’s best restaurants—some of them may be well known, some may have chosen to fly under the radar, but all have been a monumental part in pushing the Colorado food scene forward. We sat down with these female forces in food to talk shop, what it’s like to have a career in one of the most highly competitive industries,  what makes Denver’s food scene and culture different than that of other cities and what it means to be a female working in food in 2018. Here are 8 badass female forces in food to watch this year—in no particular order.

Chelsey Maschhoff, Sous Chef at Annette Scratch to Table

female chefs

Chelsey Maschhoff, Sous Chef at Annette Scratch to Table (left). Caroline Glover, owner/chef of Annette (right).

303 Magazine: What’s it like to be a female working in food in 2018? 

Chelsey Maschhoff: It’s exciting. All eyes are on females in the industry lately. We are creating spaces and menus that are simple, elegant and refined. 

303: How is Denver’s food world different than that of any other city? 

CM: I think it is an advantage that most people in Denver are not from Denver in that sense. You have chefs bringing their knowledge and experiences from other major cities to Denver, creating a diverse culinary scene and pushing all of us to think outside the box.

303: What are some of the hardships you’ve faced being a female in food and what do you feel are some of the advantages?

CM: Time lost, and I say that not in a negative way but when I look back at my life at my 20s, at the weddings I have missed, baby showers, family gatherings. I have chosen a profession that operates when most people are out celebrating life milestones. Don’t get me wrong I love what I do and would not change a thing, but it really makes me think about my future and a family of my own. Women have to give up more time in the kitchen than men [for parenthood], it’s the unfortunate truth. 

For me personally, I always feel like the underdog. I know I have the same skill set and a strong work ethic, but I have to prove myself against men. There is more pressure on women to perform, but that makes us stronger and a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen. 

303: Who is another Colorado female chef (or someone working in the food space) that you admire and why? 

CM: 2017/2018 had so many great new restaurants pop up that were owned or operated by women. I think of restaurants like Kismet and Lady of the House, but there is so many more! 

303: What has been your proudest accomplishment so far? 

CM: Being apart of the Annette team! I had faith that we would be successful but the awards and recognition we have received have been overwhelming and so humbling. 

303: What’s next for you? 

CM: We are just getting started at Annette. What’s next for me translates to what can I do to improve myself in my current job. That could be taking on extra responsibilities or coming up with new sets and adding value to our menu.

 Christine Christy, Sous Chef, Ace Eat Serve

female chefs

Sous chef Christine of Ace Eat Serve. Photo courtesy of Anna Regan.

303 Magazine: What’s it like to be a female working in food in 2018? 

Christine Christy: I can’t imagine it being much different than being a woman and trying to prove yourself in any male-dominated industry. We have to show we are in it for the long haul. We have to prove that we are capable of handling the life that comes with it. It’s hard work and you have to love it. 

303: How is Denver’s food world different than that of any other city? 

CC: Coming from the Carolinas, I can say Denver has a much more tight culinary community. It seems like everyone knows everyone and there is a lot more communication between chefs. I’ve experienced this being around chef Thach, who seems to know everyone in Denver! Charlotte isn’t like that at all. People know people, but it isn’t as tight of a community. At least from what I experienced. 

303: What are some of the hardships you’ve faced being a female in food and what do you feel are some of the advantages?

CC: It is definitely harder to prove yourself and show that you know what you’re doing. There have been moments where something I have said or suggested wasn’t verified until a male counterpart has also said the same thing. Making sure your voice is heard and validated can prove to be difficult at times. 

I don’t know that there are any particular advantages. None that I’ve consciously experienced. 

303: Who is another Colorado female chef (or someone working in the food space) that you admire and why?

CC: I have the honor of working with executive pastry chef Nadine Donovan. I admire how Nadine handles herself, her position and the people around her. You can tell there is a great wealth of knowledge, passion and skill. Also, I think it is amazing that the COO of Secret Sauce, Emily Biederman, is a woman. She owns her position and handles it very well. 

303: What has been your proudest accomplishment so far? 

CC: Coming into a team as a sous and proving that I am worthy of my team’s respect. I always consider it an accomplishment when you have a team behind you that trusts and respects you. 

303: What’s next for you? 

CC: I am not sure. Right now I am happy where I am and will continue on this path. 

Kate Kavanaugh, CEO, Western Daughters Butcher Shop

female chefs

Kate Kavanaugh, CEO, Western Daughters Butcher Shop

303 Magazine: What’s it like to be a female working in food in 2018?

Kate Kavanaugh: Working in the food industry in 2018 comes with a great deal of responsibility. The way that we grow and raise food is at a tipping point and this generation of females in food (and any gender, binary or non-binary) has the responsibility of choosing to support sustainable practices so that we can look towards the future and see real food grown in it, in a way that works with nature, and not against. I think females can lead that charge.

303: How is Denver’s food world different than that of any other city?

KK: We’re in a high desert, and we’re the only growing culinary city cooking in that environment and getting to draw from that ecosystem — meaning particular produce, shorter but abundant seasons, and a great deal of grassland, which has the potential to inform our food world in a really amazing way. Add to that that we are in a city that hasn’t really nailed down its identity just yet, which means food professionals are creating that culinary identity as we go.

303: What are some of the hardships you’ve faced being a female in food and what do you feel are some of the advantages?

KK: This industry is not known for its self-care. We work long hours for low pay in jobs that take a physical and mental toll. Implementing that self-care and prioritizing it has been a hardship. A year and a half ago, I took a step back from the business and had to say that I was depressed, unhealthy and in need of a change. I think being a female in a competitive industry where at times we are already at a disadvantage and having to make that step and say that I’ve got to take care of myself before I can create an environment built around hospitality and taking care of the customer, that was one of the hardest and also one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, and ultimately, our customers.

Women in food, we are more apt to take a holistic view and to look at the big, long-term picture. It’s part of our biological imperative and something we can use greatly to our advantage. What things can you do now that will shape our food system in 25, 50, 100 years? How can you create a sustainable food system that is also financially sustainable and able to truly provide for people at all different levels? Our advantage is in our passion and forethought and our ability to see beyond the myopia of next week’s menu.

303: Who is another Colorado female chef (or someone working in the food space) that you admire and why?

KK: Shae Whitney, who is the CEO of Dram Apothecary. I think the holistic view she has brought to her business is outstanding. She has grown her brand to include several different platforms and revenue streams all while remaining true to her mission of sustainable sourcing. She is always taking a hard look at the future, of both the land and foodscape, and making sure that what she is producing can support, and not drain, the ecosystem around her.

303: What has been your proudest accomplishment so far?

KK: Forbes 30 Under 30 last year felt big. So did making it through four years in business. I spent the last year and a half getting truly healthy and that was bigger than anything I’ve done in business. But nothing beats the partnership I have built with my ride or die, my business and life partner, Josh Curtiss. That feeds me in ways I never dreamt possible.

303: What’s next for you?

KK: We built Western Daughters to expand and are finally starting to realize that dream. We want to grow a business that can help shape our regional food system, incorporating farmers and processors on one side and customers and restaurants on another, all things that require some scale. We don’t want to just be a neighborhood butcher shop, we want to be in your neighborhood. Personally, I’m launching a website more devoted to living and enjoying a healthy and omnivorous lifestyle and opening up the conversations about how what we eat directly affects how we live and think and act.

Kodi Simkins, Chef de Cuisine, Frasca Food and Wine

female chefs

Kodi Simkins, Chef de Cuisine, Frasca Food and Wine

303 Magazine: What’s it like to be a female working in food in 2018?

Kodi Simkins: For me, I honestly feel that as long as you keep [your] head down, work hard and stay focused, things will fall into place. Hard work, passion and dedication does pay off but you have to be patient. I’ve also been fortunate to work in kitchens that are part of a larger, healthier company culture, so I realize that my story might not be everyone’s story, and I credit the restaurateurs I’ve worked with for instilling a healthy workplace environment.

303: How is Denver’s food world different than that of any other city?

KS: Denver is growing. I moved here from Montana because I saw potential in the direction that the Denver food scene was headed towards. Although Denver hasn’t reached the status of places like New York or Chicago, I think it is on the right track. I am excited to see its growth but don’t know if Colorado’s lifestyle will ever allow it to catch up to such rapidly advancing cities.

303: What are some of the hardships you’ve faced being a female in food and what do you feel are some of the advantages?

KS: I have been fortunate enough to be in the right places where I don’t feel I was treated any different. I think the biggest obstacle I have dealt with is finding a way to be efficient when something is too heavy, but I don’t feel like is a hardship either, just a different way of doing things.

I’ve always been driven to achieve and don’t feel I have been given any advantage or been at a disadvantage over others. I want to be known and respected for my work and for the person I am, not if I’m male or female.

303: Who is another Colorado female chef (or someone working in the food space) that you admire and why?

KS: Within Frasca’s building, it’s Carlin Karr, our Wine Director, and Erin Pommer, our director of events. Carlin has really helped me grow as a manager. She has set boundaries and standards that a lot of people can’t touch and she is still surpassing them. She is very understanding but always helps to push me to succeed every day. She has helped me with confidence and makes sure I keep my feet on the ground.

Erin has always been an inspiration to me. I love superheroes and Erin is the real superwoman. She can do anything and does everything then still finds time to take it to the next level. She is constantly looking to the next best thing while staying level-headed, humble and an amazing lady, role model, friend and mom. I don’t know how she does it all.

Industry-wise, it’s Missy Robbins — we had the opportunity to host Missy for a guest chef dinner at Frasca. It was so humbling to see someone who I have always looked up [to] be so level-headed. Missy stays away from the “bull shit” and stays focused on cooking and what she loves to do.

303: What has been your proudest accomplishment so far?

KS: I’m still aiming for it. Becoming the chef de cuisine of Frasca at a young age was a very humbling and proud moment for me. There have been many moments I’ve been proud of on my journey, but I think the best is yet to come.

303: What’s next for you?

KS: I’m headed to Europe with Sean to do exciting research on a new concept with Frasca.

Linda Hampsten Fox, Chef and Owner, The Bindery

female chefs

Linda Hampsten Fox, Chef and Owner, The Bindery and Ltd (an all-day neighborhood eatery in LoHi). Photo courtesy of The Bindery.

303 Magazine: What’s it like to be a female working in food in 2018?

Linda Hampsten: I think it’s an interesting time just to be a female right now let alone working in what has been a predominately and historically male profession. Woman are finding their voices in ways that exceed their professional accomplishments.  The respect and attention females are getting for their hard work is well earned.  It’s unfortunate our national political scene seems so skewed and does not physically represent these values.

303: How is Denver’s food world different than that of any other city?

LH: Denver is a city that is growing as fast or faster than any other city in the USA right now. That is very exciting because the audience is evolving at the same time. Every day at The Bindery, our guests tell me they are from LA or NYC or Portland and they love the restaurant because it reminds them of home, no matter where they are from. We have guests from Venezuela, Spain, Peru, Italy, France and they are looking for authenticity in their dining experiences. I think Denver’s food world today is defining itself as we live and breathe. Needless to say, what is truly part of Denver is the rich farming and ranching backbone of Colorado that enables chefs like myself to source great local ingredients like beef cheeks and turn them into something that reflects the contemporary and multicultural voice of our guests.

303: What are some of the hardships you’ve faced being a female in food and what do you feel are some of the advantages?

LH: Naturally, men and women experience the world differently and interpret it differently.  I think there are a lot of subtleties in our cuisine at The Bindery that is part of who I am as a female.  I want our food to reflect that.  These feminine touches are referred to by some of my male team as my trinkets.  I laugh about that a lot, but my vanilla beans in the beef cheeks and the edible flowers in many of our dishes or our garden of microgreens are important touches.  My palette and eye want to include delicate feminine nuances because that’s who I am.

303: Who is another Colorado female chef (or someone working in the food space) that you admire and why? 

LH: Yasmin Lozada-Hissom is an amazing person and chef.  When we first met we could not stop talking about food and our philosophy around it and our ideas.  We weren’t able to work together at that time, but I hope to someday.

303: What has been your proudest accomplishment so far?

LH: My proudest accomplishment in my entire life is my daughter, Emma and my stepsons Matthew, Ben and Jake and what foodies they have all become. Jake and Emma both love to cook and Matthew and Ben love to eat. Food was such an important part of my life growing up and it is great to see that is also part of their lives. Emma even started her college application with the sentence, “I have never been afraid to eat a rabbit.” In addition, I am extremely proud of all the work we do with non-profits around the world.  

303: What’s next for you? 

LH: We just finished an another amazing LoHi Saturday brunch and all I can think about is the 500-600 eggs we will serve on Sunday. Our first Denver Restaurant Week and a spring menu change is around the corner.  Long term, there are a few pots on the burner when the time is right!

Nadine Donovan, Executive Pastry Chef, Vesta, Steuben’s and Ace Eat Serve

female chefs

Nadine Donovan, Executive Pastry Chef Vesta, Steuben’s and Ace Eat Serve. Photo courtesy of Kari Cummings.

303 Magazine: What’s it like to be a female working in food in 2018?

Nadine Donovan: Over the past few years, kitchen conditions have changed dramatically. Topics such as the wage gap and sexual harassment are being addressed in the media on a national scale. Equality and an overall sense of humanity are more present in the industry than ever before.

303: How is Denver’s food world different than that of any other city?

ND: Growing up in Denver, I’ve had the opportunity to watch the city change dramatically. Once known as a simple cowtown, Denver is now a thriving, diverse, cultural city. With the ever-growing population, chefs now have the opportunity to capture interest by testing boundaries, utilizing local resources and all around going above and beyond. Denver is different than most food cities because the “culinarians” here are eager to earn their place on the food map, and it’s certainly happening fast.

303: What are some of the hardships you’ve faced being a female in food and what do you feel are some of the advantages?

ND: Perception and recognition are two major areas that challenge women in professional kitchens. While there are many notable female chefs in history, very few are recognized at the highest levels or have been honored with the most prestigious awards. It takes significantly more time and perseverance to prove yourself as a female chef.

Chef Mary Sue Milliken once said, “One of my coping mechanisms has always been gender blindness.” I can relate to that philosophy deeply. It’s challenging for me to speak about advantages or barriers because at the end of the day, respect is earned. It’s all about how you handle yourself as a leader, a teacher, a chef.

303: Who is another Colorado female chef (or someone working in the food space) that you admire and why?

ND: A few years ago, I had the honor to participate in the notorious group the Denver Five alongside Carrie Blake, Elise Wiggins, Jenna Johansen and Aniedra Nichols. Their individual drive and talent is still an inspiration to me today.

303: What has been your proudest accomplishment so far?

ND: Cooking at the James Beard House was certainly a highlight for me. You can really feel the rich history and soul in the kitchen. I hope to have the privilege to cook there again in my lifetime.

303: What’s next for you?

ND: Momentum is very important to me. I always have new plans in the works, but I can’t give away all my secrets.

Sheila Lucero, Executive Chef, Jax Fish House

female chefs

Sheila Lucero, Executive Chef, Jax Fish House.

303 Magazine: What’s it like to be a female working in food in 2018?    

Shelia Lucero: Our industry has so many great things happening, tons of positive evolution opportunity and transparency. 2018 is going to be a great year for us all.  

303: How is Denver’s food world different than that of any other city? 

SL: Denver’s food scene has been moving at a speed that I have never seen before. There are a ton of options and a lot of diversity in those options. It’s really exciting because we are seeing some really smart operators bringing it, and pushing us all to be known as a great food city. 

303: What are some of the hardships you’ve faced being a female in food and what do you feel are some of the advantages?

SL: I think people, in general, are really interested in chefs and food, currently, women in our field have people’s attention. I have been super fortunate to work for a restaurant group, that has been overwhelmingly supportive, and has always had a zero-tolerance policy for bullshit.  The hardships I have faced are those that are challenging regardless of gender.

303: Who is another Colorado female chef (or someone working in the food space) that you admire and why?  

SL: I remember not too long ago when there were just a few of us girls playing with the boys. Its great to see so many women in kitchens and leading kitchens and sticking with this crazy career path, I admire them all.

303: What has been your proudest accomplishment so far?  

SL: Last June I was one of three chefs invited to go to Washington DC with the Monterey Bay aquarium’s, Seafood Watch team, to speak to Congress on ocean sustainability and some regulations that are under possible reauthorization.  This was not only an honor but a big step in my personal growth as public speaking is not my strongest suit.

303: What’s next for you? 

SL: To keep pushing and growing the Jax brand and the Jax team. To dive a little deeper into ocean sustainability and advocacy. 

Talia Jo Diele, Executive Chef, Wayward

female chefs

Talia Jo Diele, Executive Chef, Wayward. Photo courtesy of Wayward.

303 Magazine: What’s it like to be a female working in food in 2018?

Talia Jo Diele: It’s awesome! There is much more support for women chefs. I feel it is more accepted in this industry these days. I feel lucky to be a part of it!

303: How is Denver’s food world different than that of any other city?

TD: I think Denver is on the cusp of something very progressive. It’s a very transient city which draws in a lot of talent and excitement. We have an eclectic mix of restaurants popping up everywhere, which is creating an interesting food scene that Coloradans are excited about more than ever before.

303: What are some of the hardships you’ve faced being a female in food and what do you feel are some of the advantages?

TD: Staying true to myself and my vision. It’s hard to have a bad night or negative review and not second guess myself. At this point in my career, I have failed plenty of times, but I’ve learned to not dwell on it. I let it roll off my back and to learn and build from it. I want to set a good example for my team.

I believe that success is not based on gender. If anything, being a woman in this industry pushes me to work harder and makes me better at my job. I feel having a more feminine approach allows balance in the kitchen. I’ve made it a point to be much less intimidating and more influential than most kitchens I’ve worked in the past.

303: Who is another Colorado female chef (or someone working in the food space) that you admire and why?

TD: There are so many women in this industry that I admire for multiple reasons. One woman I truly admire is Shannon Jones from Edible Beats. As general manager and member of the operations team, Jones has taught me many valuable lessons as a woman in a major role in the industry. Her loyalty, work ethic and determination alone have proven her success.

303: What has been your proudest accomplishment so far?

TD: Never losing sight of myself as a chef. I stand behind my beliefs and style and continually try to create a culture that is collaborative and influential for my team.

303: What’s next for you?

TD: For now, I am thrilled to be a part of the family at Wayward. I have a lot to look forward to here!

5 Responses

  1. Heather

    I’m curious why there aren’t any Badass Colorado female Chefs from catering companies that get recognized for things like this?

    Reply
  2. Jack

    Check out a Chef named Jordan at a restaurant named Hickory and Ash in Broomfield Colorado

    Reply

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