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.
Laëtitia Rouabah, chef at Benoit
There are very few names more easily recognizable in the world of gastronomy than that of the legendary Alain Ducasse. As the "behind every successful man, there's a woman" saying goes, though, behind Ducasse's exquisite New York restaurant Benoit, there's Laëtitia Rouabah, the chef responsible for some of the most delicious and authentic French fare in the city. And while she could stop just at that already, and still be applauded for it, she continues to push the envelope of what it means to be a chef of her caliber, constantly switching up ingredients and playing with flavors in truly unique and unexpected ways.
How did you come up with the menu items for the restaurant?
I draw inspiration from my years of experience with Alain Ducasse and then we rework dishes based on local ingredients and what’s in season. We adapt French dishes and techniques, so there’s more of a New York sensibility.
What do you hope that guests can get out of visiting Benoit?
I hope guests will be transported to Paris as soon as they walk in through the revolving doors. We put a lot of emotions in our cuisine, working with locally sourced produce and changing out menu daily, in the hopes of sharing an experience and making our guests happy.
What is your favorite part about working in the industry?
The people you meet—chefs, restaurateurs, artisans, farmers, collaborators, etc.—sharing with passionate, talented people and learning from them every day. There are so many different personalities, cuisines, styles, aesthetics, cultures in New York that there’s always something new to discover. Also providing guests with an experience that leaves them feeling happy.
What is your favorite ingredient to work with right now?
I’ve been spending some time with Billy Durney from Hometown Bar-B-Que for a collaborative dinner series, Le Cochon & Co, we’ll be doing at Benoit in April, so I’ve been learning about working with fire and smoking ingredients, different animals and cuts of meat specifically. While it’s not an ingredient, it’s been an incredible experience learning from such a passionate man about this “American craft,” and we’ve been having a lot of fun with it.
What would be your requested death row/last meal?
Now that I’m in the USA, I guess I miss home, so it would have to be a Côte de Boeuf with peppercorn sauce and French lentils.