The culinary industry has been disrupted time and again throughout history. Many of those disruptions were caused by women. In celebration and recognition of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, continue reading to learn more about seven inspirational female chefs.
1. Julia Child
Julia Child was a California native and attended Le Cordon Bleu, in France. After completing her training, Child started a cooking school of her own along with two other Le Cordon Bleu classmates. Their school was named L’Ecole de Trois Gourmandes or “The School of Three Gourmands”. In 1961, Julia and her partners released the cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in two volumes. The cookbook was a groundbreaking success – holding the spot for bestselling cookbook the next five years post-publication. A few years later, Julia would receive the George Foster Peabody Award and an Emmy. After releasing her TV cooking series, The French Chef, Child started to become a local celebrity with the show gaining syndication and air-time on almost 100 stations across the United States. From 1978 through the early ’80s, multiple TV series were released including, Julia Child and Company, Julia Child and More Company, and Dinner at Julia’s. Julia became the first woman inducted to the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame in 1993. Throughout the mid-to-late ’90s, Ms. Child published four more bestsellers with accompanying TV specials which all received high ratings. In 2000, she garnered her place among the world’s greatest chefs, receiving the Legion d’Honneur. Julia Child passed from kidney failure days before her 92nd birthday. My Life in France, her autobiography was posthumously published in 2006.
“I think every woman should have a blowtorch.”
– Julia Child
2. Padma Lakshmi
Most likely known from her modeling career and as the host of the TV show, Top Chef, Padma Lakshmi launched her culinary career with the low-calorie cookbook, Easy Exotic. She published the book after losing 30 pounds she was required to gain for a part in an Italian miniseries. Due to the success of her cookbook, Padma went on to release Padma’s Passport and host Planet Food, both popular TV shows in America and the U.K., respectively. Padma later published another cookbook, Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, in 2007. That same year she started hosting the highly watched American TV show, Top Chef. Born in Chennai, India, Padma moved to the United States with her mother following her parents’ divorce and grew up in New York and Los Angeles. A vehicle accident in the mid-’80s gave Padma a broken pelvis and arm, leaving her with a massive scar after her surgery. That scar “became my brand statement,” Lakshmi said after beginning her modeling career. She was the first Indian woman to model for major designers in Paris, Milan, and New York. Today, Padma is the co-founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America. She also works with the ACLU as an Artist Ambassador for immigrants’ and women’s rights. Her critically acclaimed series, Taste the Nation, is currently streaming on Hulu.
“When there is little you can do, you do what you can.”
– Padma Lakshmi in Love, Loss, and What We Ate: A Memoir
3. Cat Cora
Leading the charge and shattering the glass ceiling for women throughout many categories is Cat Cora. She was the first woman to win the Iron Chef competition on Food Network in 2005 and continues to be a massive influence on the culinary industry to this day. The following year, The American Academy of Chefs inducted Cat as the first woman to their Culinary Hall of Fame. Across the world, Cora has opened over 15 full-service restaurants – not to mention the 500+ pop-up eateries around the United States alone. She’s even gone so far as to found a culinary school, based in Montessori-style learning, for children. Along with all of this, Cat is also a highly respected author with multiple cookbooks, a kid’s book, and a memoir. Most recently, Cat Cora is working with women in culinary arts through the Women’s Empowerment Culinary Internship Program, which she launched in 2018. Because of all the work she’s done to help improve not only her local community but our country-at-large, Cat was awarded The President’s Volunteer Service Award and The President’s Lifetime Achievement Award by President Barack Obama.
“Even when you have doubts, take that step. Take chances. Mistakes are never a failure – they can be turned into wisdom.”
– Cat Cora
4. Cristeta Comerford
Cristeta ‘Cris’ Comerford holds one of the most important culinary roles in the United States – the Executive Chef of the White House. Born in Manila, Philippines, Cris began working towards a bachelor’s degree in food technology before dropping out; immigrating to the United States at 23 years old. When she arrived, she began working in major hotels in Chicago. She then moved to Washington, D.C., and was a chef at two hotels before taking on chef’s position in Vienna, Austria, for half a year. In 1995, Cris was recruited as the assistant chef for the White House. After the former executive chef resigned, Laura Bush promoted Ms. Comerford to the position in 2005, making her the first woman and first person of color in the role. Her passion for healthy foods and diets motivated Michelle Obama to reappoint her.
“Many well-known chefs will tell you that their earliest and greatest influence was their mom. My mom was indeed the best cook I knew.”
– Cristeta Comerford
5. Irma Rombauer
Irma Rombauer was born October 30, 1877, and most well-known for one of the most widely read cookbooks in the world, The Joy of Cooking. Since its publication in 1931, more than 18 million copies have been sold globally. In the middle of the Great Depression Irma decided to write the book as a means of income after the unexpected death of her husband. Because she had no professional experience or culinary talent, Irma spent months curating all sorts of recipes from her friends and acquaintances. In 1956, Washington University awarded Irma with the Founder’s Day Award. Irma Rombauer passed in 1962, at 84 years old. 36 years later, she was posthumously inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.