James Beard Foundation: Women in Culinary Leadership

By Lisa Elbert


Lisa Elbert
Delilah-Amanda Lynn of Ramen San, Chicago, IL
Delilah-Amanda Lynn of Ramen San, Chicago, IL

Who runs the world? Girls! And the James Beard Foundation agrees. In 2012, they launched a program to support women in culinary leadership positions and to decrease the industry's gender imbalance. The program, Women In Culinary Leadership (WICL), offers grants to women, giving them the opportunity to learn and train with some of the country's most successful culinary leaders. Who runs the restaurant? Women! 

Delilah-Amanda Lynn was one of eight recipients of the WICL grant in 2015. The program landed her with Chicago restaurant bohemeth Lettuce Entertain You, where she completed her program in six months before accepting a management position at the company's Japanese concept, Ramen San. WICL helped Lynn unleash the Beyonce-esque confidence she needs to run her own restaurant one day. You, too, can join WICL.  For the class of 2017, there are currently 20 positions available. Apply by March 12, 2017.

Lisa Elbert: How did you get your start in the industry?
Delilah-Amanda Lynn:
When I was 15, I started working for Far West Fungi at San Francisco Farmers Markets. They taught me a lot about the industry. I went to school for theater, but I felt something was missing. My grandparents owned restaurants when I was little—mom and pop places—and there was something about the industry that I really connected with. 

So, I did a few stages, and Traci Des Jardins hired me at Jardinière where I did garde manger and pastry. I moved on to catering management for Split Pea, and then bakery management at Zynga, the gaming corporation. It was great; we made everything from scratch, and they really let me have free range. 

My next step was working for myself. I owned a private dining company called Little Girl Kitchen in San Francisco where I designed menus, picked locations, and organized private dinners for 12 people or less. I got a lot of private chef clients that way.

LE: What were you doing prior to the WICL program?
I was working as a private chef/house manager for a couple in New York that worked for the UN. They were really supportive of women in hospitality, so they were happy I decided to do the program and go on with my dreams. 

LE: How did you find the WICL program? 
I try to sign up for as many newsletters as I can. I got a letter from Culintro and saw a blurb at the bottom about WICL through the JBF. This was when I was working for the family in New York.  I mentioned it to them, and they fully supported me following my dream. They wrote a recommendation for me, so did Far West, and my pastry chef at Zynga wrote me one as well. I went through a series of phone interviews and got picked by Lettuce Entertain You. 

LE: Why did you decide to apply?
My personal plan was to own my own restaurant one day, and I joined so I could get comfortable doing so. I have a lot of back of house experience, and I wanted to have understanding and control of both sides. I want my employees to know I have respect for what they do because I've done it. I'd like to own my own establishment and I feel like this program has prepared me to do so by bolstering my confidence and providing technical knowledge.

LE: What is your current position with LEYE?
I'm a manager at Ramen San. I started with the LEYE Summer Internship Program, so I got to meet all of the company's chefs, learn the finances, etc. Then I did management training, which included front of house follows at a number of their restaurants as well as back of house. I worked closely with the General Managers at each restaurant and the Divisional Managers. 

LE: How did the WICL program prepare you for your current position?
In so many ways. I never thought my back of house experience would translate to front of house. Doing all of those follows and seeing how each position connects to the other consecutively made me think, “Oh yeah, I can do this.” I never thought I could before. LEYE has helped me feel more prepared and confident about how to approach every situation, and about doing the physical jobs themselves—knowing what a busser's job really is, knowing what a bartender is responsible for besides just making cocktails (which is a lot). That has helped enable me to develop more respect and receive more respect. I can actually help, which helps run a better and smoother service.

LE: What was the most valuable skill you acquired?
Learning how to do every job in the restaurant is really important. I can't figure out how I would've done that before I eventually open my own place, and I really want my employees now and in the future to respect me because I know what they do and what their job entails, and how difficult it can be. It was truly a life experience that I will never forget, and I will carry with me wherever I go in the future. And confidence. This program gave me the confidence I need to carry out my dream of owning my own restaurant.

LE: What do you plan to do to further WICL?
I've told JBF that I want to help and be a part of WICL. I want to get more women inside my restaurant, so I'm making sure I hire and surround myself with strong women of color, and women in general. Just finding women who aren't sure if they can do it, and making them believe that they can, is the best thing I can do, because that's what JBF and LEYE did for me. And now my idea of the future is so different.

LE: How is your idea of the future different? 
I can't say enough about this program. I really never thought I would be able to do what I'm doing today. Besides the technical skills, there's really nothing more valuable than having more confidence in yourself. I think all of the women across the program, even though we're all in different programs, we can all relate to that. The confidence this program has the power to instill in you is really going to project you into your future in this industry.

LE: Do you have any advice for future applicants?
Don't get sick! And be organized. Take time for yourself every once in a while, you can get really wrapped up and forget to take care of yourself. Some days I worked really early, some days really late; the schedule constantly changes. Just remember to take a breath, do some yoga, make sure you're eating healthy and taking care of yourself, it's what's going to keep you going in and learning everyday. And take a lot of notes. Even if it's just writing about they day or your feelings. It's a life changing experience, so to have something to reference back to is really important, emotionally and for learning. 

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