Chefs make connections and find meaning in immersive event experience.
Each year, Compass Group selects leading female culinarians from across its sectors to participate in Women in Culinary, a two-day gathering, culinary showcase, and celebration of the female chefs.
This year, we’re thrilled that three Bon Appétit chefs – Chase Center Culinary Director Kristela Mendoza, Linkedin Chicago Culinary Director Kristine Subido, and Kitami Lentz, Executive Development Chef of Culinary Training and Activation at a large technology company – were selected to participate after being nominated by regional leaders.
The trio of Bon Appétiters arrived in Dallas along with 20 other female culinarians from Compass sister companies. The event was held at the Middleby Innovation Kitchen, a chef’s playground with 44,000 square feet of state-of-the-art kitchen equipment and fully stocked fridges and pantries.
The first day of networking events, product samplings, and demonstrations provided a unique opportunity for the chefs to share best practices in the kitchen and talk shop about their careers. “It was so nice to get out and meet other women chefs and hear about their experiences and what their struggles are,” says Kristine. “It really recharged me and inspired me to open doors for the next generation.”
“Just getting to have those great conversations was so invaluable,” says Kitami. “Kristine and I have very similar clients, so we had so many organic discussions and were really able to take tangible things back and then apply them to our work.” In the evening, the group attended a Dallas Mavericks game and were seated in a high-end dining suite, offering a space for informal time together.
Creative Collaboration, Not Competition
The culinary showcase – perhaps the main event of Women in Culinary – occurred on day two. The 23 chefs were grouped into teams and tasked with making dishes from a mystery box of ingredients. The dish was then tasted by a panel of judges. But rather than a hyper-competitive, Iron Chef-style competition, the event proved to be a chance for collaboration. “On our team… the tasters said that everything was well seasoned, we perfectly balanced the flavors, even the plant-based proteins were perfectly cooked,” says Kristela. “What we created was dope because we were given a platform to showcase our skills without any pressure. You know, the minute you walk into the room, you’re wondering if you’re being judged for, you know, your race, your gender, your height, everything right?” Kristela laughs. “And that was such a safe space to just be like, hey, just shut up and cook.”
Being Seen and Celebrated
For Kitami, the best part of Women in Culinary was the way it authentically celebrated women across Compass Group. “Sometimes people act like female culinarians require all this special upskilling or that we’re in some way this remedial group that needed an extra push,” she says. “Women in Culinary was more like, no, we really want to call you out for what you have accomplished and how successful you have been and celebrate you and your contributions to the company. I really appreciated that.”
As the showcase wound down and chefs began to leave, they knew the event was truly just the beginning of their work together. “We now have a WhatsApp group chat and Teams channel,” says Kristine. “It’s the sort of connection where I feel like I could call or reach out to them anytime.”
All 23 women were also invited to join Upward, a forum for ongoing peer-to-peer connections that will ensure that collaborations continue in the future, kindling the spark of inspiration that was felt by all during those two days in Dallas.