On season one of Chef's Table, Dan Barber, the mastermind behind the famous Blue Hill at Stone Barns, noted that we live in a time when chefs have become celebrities. Between shows like the aforementioned Chef's Table and Top Chef and food crazes brought on by creations like cronuts and sushi burritos, we are as familiar with names like Dominique Ansel and David Chang and Marcus Samuelsson as we are with those of celebrities that front our favorite magazines. And while I would willingly watch the now-thrice-mentioned Chef's Table (I may be a fan) over and over again until the next new season comes out, I cannot help but reflect on the fact that there are significantly fewer women chefs with the same degree of recognition or visibility.
It's a not-so-little-known fact that the food and liquor industries are still dominated by men. It's doubtlessly due in part to the gender bias that continues to prevail in many kitchens that there are considerably fewer April Bloomfields and Nancy Silvertons (who, by the way, gave Barber his first job—which she also quickly fired him from for his then-lack of baking skills) that dominate our screens and delight us with their presence. With this in mind, we wanted to highlight 30 incredible women who are behind some of our favorite restaurants, bottled beverages, and pastries. Some are well-known, some have started food trends (hello, poke and kombucha), and some you need to put on your radar ASAP. We love them, and we think you will too. Ahead, their stories.
Samantha Wasser, by CHLOE.’s co-founder
Health-conscientious, plant-based-food-loving New Yorkers can't remember what they ate on a regular basis before Samantha Wasser came onto the scene. The co-founder and creative director of by CHLOE, the fast-casual, plant-based brand that turns the most serious of carnivores into veggie burger-begging converts, Wasser first joined the industry via her father's hospitality group, first opening Horchata de Neuva York and then overseeing by CHLOE's every detail when it was first opening its location in the West Village. She is the driving force behind its monolith L.A., Boston, and NYC expansions and is currently working on two additional fast-casual concepts: The Sosta, an Italian concept in partnership with chef Ali LaRaia opening this summer, and DEZ, a Middle Eastern concept with chef and tv host Eden Grinshpan.
How did you come up with the idea for the restaurant?
When the idea was brought to us to open a vegan fast casual restaurant, I was immediately intrigued, noticing a gap in the fast-casual space for a fun and delicious vegan destination. I wanted to create something that went beyond simply offering a menu of plant-based, vegan dishes, but a destination that appealed to the preferences of millennial diners as well, offering a fast-casual option that was affordably priced with restaurant-quality service and menu items, set in a space that would be Instagram-worthy no matter what dish you ordered.
What were you hoping your customers would get out of visiting it when you first envisioned it?
I wanted to accomplish two things: 1) I wanted to create a restaurant that I would want to dine in. A place that was fun and kitschy, that didn’t take itself too seriously, encouraging diners to join us for a meal the same way you’d meet your friends at a bar or restaurant—creating a place to gather, Instagram, work, catch up, without the pressure of a full-service experience. 2) We wanted to create a vegan restaurant that wasn’t only for vegans. Our menu looks to dispel the misconception of stereotypical vegan food. It’s one thing to create food that is delicious for vegan diners, it’s another to create vegan food that’s delicious for all diners, and we sought to accomplish the latter. We have such an amazing collection of loyal customers and fans around the country, everything that we’ve been working toward these last few years has all been for them.
Why do you think healthy food is having such a moment right now?
I think that it’s a combination of diners wanting to know more about the food they are putting into their bodies now, with a shift toward more mindful eating. I also believe that the surge of fast-casual restaurant concepts these last few years has provided more affordable options for guests to enjoy healthier food at a price point that enables them to change their dining patterns on a day-to-day basis.
What is your favorite part about working in the industry?
Seeing a brand come to life. When you work on an idea every day for over a year, you see it in pieces—the logo, the design, the menu, the packaging, the overall goal—and slowly it starts to come together. The night before an opening is always the best because you look at this space, this brand that you’ve worked to put together, knowing that the doors will inevitably open to serve and satisfy guests. Being there on opening day at every location to serve that first customer, and watching guests day in and day out and enjoy the food at our restaurants around the country, is the most gratifying feeling, and it never gets old.