Women’s History Month: The Importance of Female Mentoring with Chef Amy Brandwein

Any professional will tell you that a key to career success is mentoring. This is even more the case for women, especially those working in competitive, male-dominated fields. For Women's History Month, I decided to ask Top Chef Amy Brandwein of Alba Osteria in Washington DC on the role that female mentoring has played in her career. One of the first women named executive chef in the nation's capital, I sat down with her to dish on mentoring and her list of ingredients to "make it" at work.

Chef Brandwein is an accomplished woman in the culinary industry. The professional advice she shared with me can be applied to any workplace.

Women’s History Month: The Importance of Female Mentoring with Chef Amy Brandwein

Chef Amy Brandwein "Dishes" On Being a Female In the Culinary Field

During my Q & A with Chef Amy Brandwein, I zeroed in on the importance of women challenging and mentoring each other to reach success in their careers.

The Wise Latina Club's Haley: What are the challenges of being a female in the male dominated culinary field?

Chef Amy: The kitchen runs like the military. It does not work on consensus. There is someone at the top of the food chain and all other staff fall into the hierarchy. This reality comes with a two-fold challenge. That is, women face a harder time gaining respect in the kitchen. The other challenge is that men and women in the kitchen also have preconceived cultural ideas about a woman's role in society.

A woman is easily placed in the kitchen at home but is not often seen handling sharp knives, hot pans, and hot tempers. 

The Wise Latina Club's Haley: What is beneficial about being a woman in the field?

Chef Amy: We are very perceptive and our feelings are in tune with others. We pick up social cues well which can be helpful in the management field. We also communicate well with others. Maybe a little too well. Because of our strong communication skills, networking come naturally.

The Wise Latina Club's Haley: How often are you asked about being a female and in the culinary field? Does this bother you? Do you feel separation between you and your male counterparts?

Chef Amy: In the past, I was rarely asked about being a female chef. These days I get asked all of the time. I love working with men in the kitchen and the camaraderie that develops from it.  I grew up with a brother and three male cousins.

I learned fast how to survive, even thrive, in a mostly male environment.

The Wise Latina Club's Haley: You have two women in the kitchen that you mentor. Tell me a little more about these relationships.

Chef Amy: Building these relationships has allowed us to push each other past where we are currently in our careers. I encourage them in their abilities as chefs. Like, "Of course, you can do it!" or "I don’t know why you doubt yourself." They both struggle with male chefs giving them a hard time. The field can be a very bossy environment. Men who can perceive what is going on in a social situation have the upper hand in management.

The Wise Latina Club's Haley: How have women in the culinary industry made history?

Chef Amy: One thing I’m proud of contributing to is being a leading female executive chef in Washington, D.C. Milestones like these instill confidence in me to move on to whatever challenge I have next.

The Wise Latina Club's Haley: If you have any advice for professional women in the work field, especially the culinary field, what would it be?

Chef Amy: My advice would be not to cry. I had a tough boss at one time and I would cry when I was frustrated. My boss was not a fan of crying. At one point after that job I just stopped crying.

Crying is a natural expression but one to be controlled.

Over time it has to come out of your repertoire. On another note, as long as you put in your hard work and do well on the job, the culinary industry is fantastic. The industry does not care who you are as long as you put your best foot forward.

Women such as Rosa Parks, Hillary Clinton, Ellen Ochoa, and Beyoncé have paved the way for other women to succeed in any field. In the culinary field, executive chef Amy Brandwein is also an example of the power and potential women bring to the table. Confidence plus a strong work ethic is a recipe that all women should put in the recipe book of professional success.

HaleyFulford-TheWiseLatinaClubA food enthusiast and native Georgia Peach, Haley recently graduated from Appalachian State University with a Bachelors of Science in Sustainable Development. Currently interning in the office of Congressman Sanford Bishop, she is passionate about the outdoors, improved access to quality education for all, public policy, and documenting “from stress to success in the city.” Click here to read more about and connect with Haley.

Edited by: Viviana Hurtado, Ph.D.

Which women in your life inspire you to greatness?