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Madrid Fusion 2004 on StarChefs

Day 1:
Tribute to Edna Lewis
Sharon Carver
Maggie Glezer
Barbara Long
Alisa Barry
Lidia Bastianich
Deann Bayless
Carolyn O’Neil
Gina Hopkins
Christiane Lauterbach
Mary Reynolds

Day 2:
Nancy Civetta
Debi Benedetti
Carlin Breinig
Lisa Ekus-Saffer
Antoinette Bruno
Cindy Hutson
Ana Sortun
Susan Spicer

Making It As a Chef Panel Audio:
Click Here To Listen


Women Chefs and Restaurateurs 2006 National Conference
November 18-20, 2006
The InterContinental Hotel Buckhead, Atlanta, GA

By Antoinette Bruno and Erin Hollingsworth
January 2007

WCR’s self-proclaimed simple yet noble mission of educating and advancing the careers of women in the restaurant industry, and thereby bettering the industry as whole, was clearly at work in its most recent national conference. With dozens of demonstrations, lectures and panel discussions, women from every facet of the industry engaged in learning, teaching, discussing, networking and, of course, eating.

WCR 2006 at
WCR 2006

This year’s theme was Southern Roots and Hospitality charmingly manifest in seminars such as “Slow Southern Grains in the American Culinary Fast Lane” and “From Southern Iced to the Modern Tea Cocktail”. Participants were offered “sweet tea” with meals and the local, young braised greens you might expect at a culinary conference were fittingly organic collard greens.

Colby Pimento Cheese Toast from Dorothy Copenhaver at
Colby Pimento Cheese Toast from
Dorothy Copenhaver

The President’s Lunch featured Miss Lewis’s recipe for Fried Chicken, Rutabaga Potatoes from Sharon Carver, Braised Local Collard Greens from Patti Rogers, Colby Pimento Cheese Toast from Dorothy Copenhaver and Edna’s Coconut Lemon Cake.

The majority of the day was filled with networking breaks and Master Class Sessions designed to either teach a specific culinary skill or provide a forum for discussion. These included an artisanal bread baking seminar with cookbook author Maggie Glezer and a panel on making the oft-tricky move from restaurant to retail moderated by Barbara Long, author of From Restaurant to Retail.

Lidia Bastianich at
Lidia Bastianich

Retail panel participant Alisa Barry, founder of Cucina Artful Food, talked about the value of hand-packing her specialty items to ensure quality control. She also uses the internet to sell directly to retailers and for research. Lidia Bastianich, owner of Felidia, Becco and Lidia’s, discussed the importance of maintaining creative control in making her own cooking shows and then giving them over to PBS, the same applies to her line of sauces and pastas. Her career developed organically and she described her business as a very grass roots operation. All of the women, including Deann Bayless of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, believe in using their own money to fund their entrepreneurial endeavors. This gives them creative and financial control, something many women in business value. Deann talked about the importance of de-selecting – maintaining and strengthening existing relationships before making new ones.

Throughout the day participants had the opportunity to peruse the WCR Bookstore, a sampling of books from Charis Books and More, written largely by and mostly for women. Both the quality and quantity of women-focused food writing and cookbooks was impressive and the proprietors of Charis Books were friendly and engaging.

The Perfect Purée on
The Perfect Purée Sponsors the WCR Infofair and Picnic Lunch
Carolyn O'Neil at
Carolyn O'Neil

Like it or not, achieving and maintaining success in foodservice requires a certain amount of media savvy. Carolyn O’Neil, of Carolyn O’Neil Production, moderated the How to Build Successful Media Relations forum. Gina Hopkins, Director of Operations at Restaurant Eugene, discussed the effect media can have on a restaurant, after her own was criticized by Atlanta magazine for being too “old” for a younger crowd. Hopkins shared that Eugene’s opening was full of many generations of her own family members, creating a false sense that the Eugene was catering to an older audience. Interestingly, Christiane Lauterbach, food critic for Atlanta magazine, who wrote the harmful review of Restaurant Eugene, was present. She warned against full disclosure with food journalists, noting that everything is on the record unless otherwise specified. To round out the group, Mary Reynolds, President of The Reynolds Group added a marketing perspective to the media discussion. She suggested that having a PR or marketing person is very important in the industry and keeping that person informed is as important as having one. For those that can’t afford a full-time PR representative, Mary Reynolds offers that PR college students often masquerade as food servers, and are quite easy to enlist.

Day 2:

Guillermo and Laura Mares, Scott Peacock and Friends from Bacchanalia on

Guillermo and Laura Mares, Scott Peacock
and freinds from Bacchanalia

For women interested in running their own businesses, Nancy Civetta, of Civetta Comunicazioni, led a discussion on the “Business of Running a Business”. Participants included Debi Benedetti, Strategist and Coach from Beyond the Possible, Carlin Breinig, Personal Chef, and Lisa Ekus-Saffer, President of Lisa Ekus Public Relations Company. Ekus-Saffer emphasized the importance of following through, managing your time, and honoring commitments to establish and continually sell your credibility. She says go with your mood, make 4 extra calls when you’re up and don’t bother when you’re down – we’re all human. Chef Breinig talked about setting goals, for her working four days a week, sticking to them, and learning to say no. For Benedetti time management is a central concern – she spends three days with clients and two days in the office. She also said its crucial to learn from people who’ve been where you are, to learn from their mistakes and successes.

Nancy Civetta on
Carlin Breinig on Debi Benedetti on Lisa Ekus-Saffer on

Nancy Civetta

Carlin Breinig
Debi Benedetti
Lisa Ekus-Saffer

Nestle table on

Nestle Table

WCR 2006 on

Cocktail Sampling

StarChefsAntoinette Bruno led the discussion on making it as a woman in the foodservice and hospitality industries. Cindy Hutson of Ortanique on the Mile, Ana Sortun of Oleana and Susan Spicer of Bayona shared their thoughts based on years as chefs and restaurant owners. The chefs ranged from coy to modest to tongue-in-cheek when asked when they knew they’d made it, but seemed in their element talking about the process of getting where they are, and musing over their own continually changing definitions of personal success. For Chef Sortun, success is having choices, the temporal and financial freedom to, in her case, stay home with her new 18-month-old child. That comes after years of very hard work, focus and confidence she points out. Chef Hutson jests she didn’t know she was successful until asked to appear on panels such as this and seems to take a somewhat existential philosophy to her career, the success and career happen before they’ve been defined. Nonetheless, as a one-time owner of five different restaurants, Chef Hutson relates the importance of being close to all aspects of your restaurant operations, because if you aren’t, someone else might muck it up (this happened to her). And Chef Spicer continues to count on the affirmation of her peers and diners to know that she is on the “right track”. The continued loyalty of customers and, perhaps ironically, her ability to rebound after a failed retail store (link to from restaurant to retail) attempt have been crucial to her confidence as chef and restaurateur. She offers as advice to other chefs, “Don’t wait until you’re a chef to act like one,” meaning it’s important to see ahead of where you are, and to sometimes act like you are, to get where you want to go.

StarChefs had an enjoyable and edifying experience at the Making It Panel, the other diverse panels, demonstrations, meals and events. For more information on WCR please visit their website.


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