If you’ve ever wondered why the hospitality industry is dominated by male executive chefs and restaurateurs — when it’s traditionally been women who run home kitchens — you might want to check out the inaugural Restaurant Reset conference. Taking place in Fort Lauderdale from April 24-26 at the Conrad Fort Lauderdale Hotel, the conference is organized by the non-profit organization Mentorship, Advocacy, Pandemic Relief, and the Power of Women (MAPP).
MAPP was founded by award-winning filmmaker Joanna James, known for documentary A fine line, which features chefs Dominique Crenn, Barbara Lynch and Cat Cora. In it, James explores this critical question: why do women make up less than 7% of chefs and restaurateurs in the industry?
James says it comes down to access, pure and simple.
“Access means getting the right introductions. It means those introductions lead to media exposure, ownership, and financial independence. It means always being in the right place at the right time,” she says.
It also means being sought out for opportunities – be it food shows, festivals or executive chef positions – from all over the country. MAPP members and conference speakers represent every state and identity, from Crystal Wahpepah, a member of Kickapoo Nation (Oklahoma) and the first Native woman to compete on Food Network’s Choppedto Paula DaSilva, born in Brazil, Hell’s Kitchen 2009 Finalist and Executive Chef at The Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale.
“There has to be a reset in this country,” says James. “We have seen that there is room for more authentic flavors and representation in the hospitality of women, women of color and Indigenous women. They sacrifice a lot to get where they are. But all people marginalized communities don’t have public relations and marketing staff, so they don’t get the rewards and recognition they deserve.”
To that end, the three-day event is the only one of its kind dedicated to promoting women and women of color as chefs, restaurateurs, and food and beverage professionals. Panels, workshops and more will focus on providing this access and educating the public. Equity, diversity, empowerment, growth and scale are the topics that James Beard Award-nominated chefs Ellen Yin, Ji Hye Kim, Reem Assil, Katie Button and Valerie Chang will speak on.
With an enthusiastic and inclusive cast, the conference aims to inspire and energize. Networking is the key. The same goes for the supply of opportunities.
“The pandemic has highlighted what has happened over the past five to ten years,” James says. “The industry lacks the mindset to work together rather than solo. Women never have a seat at the table to talk politics. It’s always fluff and chips. “
Instead, she says, women need partnerships. They need conversations. They need invitations. It’s no longer about a manager unable to find enough talented women to balance a list of food festivals or a hiring manager unable to hire a diverse team for the kitchens. “They’re already there,” James argues. “It’s time to show the different faces we’ve sorely missed. It takes intention. We welcome the chance to do this together.”
MAPP Restaurant Reset Conference. Sunday, April 24 through Tuesday, April 26 at the Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, 551 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; mappimpact.org. Tickets cost between $225 and $645. A live stream of the conference is available for $25.