Celebrating the Badass Women Who Drive L.A.'s Food Scene

A woman makes tortillas at Petty Cash Taqueria
A woman makes tortillas at Petty Cash Taqueria
Anne Fishbein

Women are breaking down barriers and making strides in the culinary field all over America, but Los Angeles has special reason to be proud of our female culinary talent. Long before the "why aren't there more female chefs?" question became common, Los Angeles had women who were leading our scene, driving the conversation, and influencing the next generation of cooks and chefs. Today we'd like to pay special homage to those women, as well as the ones who have emerged more recently, who constantly inspire us with their entrepreneurship, their innovation, and of course, their amazing cooking.

Nancy Silverton
Nancy Silverton
Christopher Hirsheimer

It might be an obvious place to start, but we are immensely grateful for the example of Nancy Silverton, an L.A. native who has helped to define our place on the culinary map. As Spago's opening pastry chef, as co-chef and owner of the hugely influential Campanile andj of coursej as the queen of the Mozza compound, Silverton's influence cannot be overstated. She's helped to train multiple generations of L.A. cooks, she's given us some of America's best Italian cooking, and she continues to turn out cookbooks that inspire us as home cooks.

Another L.A. native, Suzanne Goin, has given us three of the city's most iconic restaurants, and like Silverton has had a firm hand in defining L.A.'s style. Her business partner, Caroline Styne, also deserves huge credit for bringing those restaurants to life, and for giving the city some of its best wine lists.

Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken at Border Grill Santa MonicaEXPAND
Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken at Border Grill Santa Monica
Heather Platt

Silverton and Goin helped build the foundation upon which L.A.'s dining scene has thrived, but they aren't the only ones who should get props for that foundation. The Border Grill's Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken have to be given so much credit, as does Jar's Suzanne Tracht.

The way we talk and think about food wouldn't be the same without Evan Kleiman, who filled our bellies for decades with her beloved Angeli Caffe, and now keeps us in the know about all things food with her KCRW radio show, Good Food. That conversation also would have been very different over the years without the contributions of Irene Virbila, the longtime Los Angeles Times restaurant critic.

To Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong, whose food at Jitlada is outshone only by her incredible, welcoming personality; to Rocio Camacho, for her moles that redefined, for this eater, what mole could be, we thank you.

We are grateful for the contributions (and desserts) of Sherry Yard , Wolfgang Puck's longtime pastry chef and current culinary director at iPic Theaters, for her ambition and talent and generosity of spirit. And we're grateful for the women Yard trained, who have gone on to spread the deliciousness, including Odys + Penelope's Karen Hatfield and Clementine's Annie Miler.

Celebrating the Badass Women Who Drive L.A.'s Food Scene (10)
Ryan Orange

We want to recognize Monica Lee, who has been running Beverly Soon Tofu for 31 years, feeding countless Angelenos volcanic-red bubbling bowls of soft soon tofu stew.

Can you imagine Santa Monica without the restaurants of Zoe Nathan, or the bread her bakeries provide? Would Bestia be the utter delight of a restaurant it is without the desserts of Genevieve Gergis? Would République be the incredible all-day powerhouse of a restaurant without the pastries of Margarita Manzke?

I know I don't want to live in a world without the pies of Nicole Rucker.  Or without Dahlia Narvaez's butterscotch budino.

A round of applause for Jessica Koslow, who gave us Sqirl, for which we will be forever grateful.

For bringing community and lovingly prepared Vietnamese food to Highland Park at Good Girl Dinette, we want to thank Diep Tran. For bringing breakfast tacos to Los Feliz, the Texans and hungover-prone among us would like to thank Brianna Valdez.

Chef Niki Nakayama
Chef Niki Nakayama
Anne Fishbein

A slew of women have helped to remake the restaurant scene on the Westside in recent years: Niki Nakayama, who has brought us so much beautiful, thoughtful food at her kaiseki restaurant n/naka; Antonia Lofaso, with her always-packed Scopa Italian Roots; Nyesha Arrington, who not only runs the beautiful Leona restaurant but is active in numerous community and charity organizations.

Chef Nyesha Arrington
Chef Nyesha Arrington
Leona

Here's to Ellen Bennett, the Mexican-American girl born in Glendale, raised by a single mom and now owning the kitchenware world with her company Hedley & Bennett. And here's to Natasha Phan, the business mind behind Kogi — Roy Choi may get all the glory, but we know (partly because he told us) just how instrumental you've been in creating a bona fide L.A. phenomenon.

Ria Barbosa
Ria Barbosa
Anne Fishbein

And we're looking forward to a whole new generation of female culinary professionals who will continue to take the city in delicious and exciting directions. We can't wait to see what Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson do with their newly opened Kismet. Go Get Em Tiger's Ria Barbosa (formerly Ria Wilson, known for her time at Wild and Sqirl) has only just begun to show us what she might be capable of. Jessica Largey, who won the James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2015 for her work at Manresa in Los Gatos, is bringing her own restaurant to Los Angeles late this year.

We are grateful for the thousands of immigrant and American-born women who work behind the scenes in Los Angeles kitchens, who might never win James Beard Awards but without whom our restaurant industry would grind to a halt.

L.A. Weekly thanks you. Los Angeles thanks you.


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