Los Angeles chefs and businesswomen Suzanne Goin, Nancy Silverton and pastry chef Sally Camacho Mueller came together for a multigenerational conversation at the Beverly Hills Hotel last week to share their stories of success with 200 other women.
The panel was moderated by cookbook author and restaurateur Evan Kleiman, with proceeds from the evening benefiting Visionary Women, a nonprofit organization helping empower and embolden women of all ages to succeed and thrive. The group provides financial support to organizations such as the East Los Angeles Women’s Center, Planned Parenthood, and Peace Is Loud, whose mission is to build a culture of peace and eliminate oppression and bullying.
The lively exchange shifted from balancing family with work to the evolution of women chefs in the restaurant world, which has been dominated by men. The recipe for success was the same for all three — teamwork and encouraging those around you.
“Those first few years when I started out in 1989, I felt like I had to do everything myself,” Silverton, who started the La Brea Bakery 30 years ago and now co-owns Chi Spacca, Mozza2Go, Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza, told the crowd.
“Doing it all yourself is just not realistic — you have to let go, and the best way to have things the way you want them is by encouraging those around you. It’s really important when you own one or more restaurants, and can’t be there all the time, that you always mentor and nurture people. Let them know when you’re proud of them and you will get the results you want.”
Mueller, managing partner at Hollywood hot spot Tesse, credited social media with the rapid growth of the food business world. “People in Hong Kong can see what people in Norway are doing in real time and the techniques they are using. It’s really cool to see what everybody is creating,” Mueller said.
Goin represented the Lucques Group, which includes A.O.C. and Tavern, and she just celebrated the 20th anniversary of her signature restaurant. She shared her origin story, which started on the East Coast in a home where both parents took turns cooking. Her father’s specialty was a Spam roast dotted with pineapple.
“I was their sous chef and started getting hooked on the transformative aspect of cooking,” the married mother of three told the sold-out sisterhood. “Taking an ingredient and inventing something with it and seeing resulting joy in people’s faces.”
Once the salon ended, there was much joy in the Sunset Room when a formal sit-down dinner was served with a menu created by all three chefs.
The first course was an Indian-spiced chicken from Silverton with walnuts, baby Little Gem lettuce, escarole, chili flakes, cumin and preserved lemon.
Goin’s main course was inspired by the winter citrus season: black bass with fennel puree, Cara Cara oranges, pomelos and green olives in green harissa with jalapeno.
Tapping into her Filipino heritage, Mueller’s show-stopping dessert was a trio of glazed Manila mango sphere filled with passion fruit, a cocoa nib crisp and milk chocolate glace over brown butter cake.
All three women concurred that their instinctive attraction to the madness and mayhem that is the restaurant business and the kitchen is what propels them to power on. On the horizon, both Silverton and Goin will be opening new hotel restaurants. Silverton is working on her ninth cookbook and plans to open the fast-casual Pizzette in the Citizen Market in Culver City this summer.
And if managing three high-profile sit-down restaurants, a bakery, a catering business and the entire Hollywood Bowl food operation isn’t enough, Goin will be opening a restaurant in the Proper Hotel in downtown L.A. this summer.
“I just keep going because I want to stay one step ahead of Suzanne,” Silverton deadpanned.