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Female Titans of the Bay Area Food Scene Gathered at Cherry Bombe Jubilee

Including Alice Waters, Tanya Holland, and more

Elisabeth Prueitt, Alice Waters, Gabriela Camara
Inconnu Wine/Instagram

For the first time since it launched four years ago, biannual food magazine Cherry Bombe brought its yearly Jubilee conference to the West Coast. On Saturday, October 14, the Palace of Fine Arts became the nucleus of the SF food industry’s most talented females. Chefs, farmers, writers, community organizers, winemakers, and others joined together to talk about important issues in gender and food.

Organizers and Cherry Bombe founders Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu kicked things off with a brief history of the Jubilee. In short, Eater’s own senior reporter Hillary Dixler was a catalyst for the conference after her 2013 interview with the editor of Times Magazine’s ‘Gods of Food’ issue, which was — spoiler alert — completely bereft of women. The lack of female presence in food media, at conferences, and on lists of awards was astonishing — Wu and Diamond created the Jubilee to address those problems. A notable quote and observation on the strong female presence in SF’s food scene from Diamond: “If we’d been in San Francisco, we might never have started any of this.”

Shakirah Simley, community organizer and founder of Nourish|Resist, gave the opening address. She spoke on issues including gender, race, socioeconomics, and how to change the imbalances faced by those vulnerable to inequality. Here are some powerful quotes:

  • "Resiliency is not a choice."
  • "The people closest to the problems are the ones closest to the solutions. Listen to them. Partner. Uplift.”
  • "We can hold a place for our grief, but we cannot be paralyzed by it."
  • "Move from your remorseful self to your regenerative self"

Next up: a panel titled The Melting Pot Boils Over: Appropriation, Assimilation, and Affirmation featuring Preeti Mistry (chef, Juhu Beach Club, Navi Kitchen), Andrea Nguyen (cookbook author and teacher) Tanya Holland (chef, Brown Sugar Kitchen), Yasmin Khan (cookbook author), Dominica Rice-Cisneros (chef, Cosecha); moderated by Lisa Q. Fetterman (CEO of Nomiku) and introduced by Reem Assil (Reem’s California).

The group discussed cultural appropriation, and the sharing of ideas between cultures. When is it to borrow from other cultures? When is it exploitation? Highlights:

  • Andrea Nguyen called out chefs Ed Lee and Chris Shepherd for discussing immigrant cuisine and appropriation at a Vietnamese restaurant on Mind of a Chef without involving someone from the restaurant/community in the conversation. “They need to say ‘You’re not going to film in that restaurant unless I’m a part of that conversation,’” said Nguyen.
  • Not everyone agreed: while Nguyen felt that it is almost never ok, Yasmin Khan said she loves when other people cook her culture's food and thinks "there is no authenticity," because even within cultures the food and people change and adapt.
  • Appropriation can go in a different direction: Andrea Nguyen gave the example of how the people of Vietnam took the food of their oppressors and made it their own, using French baguettes to create banh mi, now synonymous with Vietnamese culture.
  • Preeti Mistry on naming purveyors on her menu, even though it feels played out : “I have to go above and beyond to show people that elevation,” as a person of color and owner of a restaurant serving non-American food, while everyone assumes white chefs use high quality ingredients.
  • Mistry on assimilation: “In my restaurant, we’re not going to fucking assimilate.”

Karen Leibowitz, author and co-founder of The Perennial, Commonwealth, and Mission Chinese Food, gave a talk titled How to Be (Self) Sustainable.

  • Leibowitz spoke at length on the dangers of imposter syndrome for women in the industry, as well as the dangers of “helpmate syndrome,” wherein a woman’s career is subsumed by her husband or male partner.
  • She also gave strong insight into the work she and her husband, Anthony Myint, do to create a restaurant that is sustainable, and a model for others.
  • "Regenerative sustainability is not about trying to do less harm, its trying to do more good," was her main message, urging everyone to do work that not only halts climate change, but reverses it.

Eater’s editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt was on hand to give an eye-opening talk on “The State of the State,” a rundown of how the imbalance of male-to-female has (or has not) changed since in the four years since the Jubilee came into being. Main takeaways:

  • Do away with “best female chef” awards and lists
  • Do better. Find the voices that are missing from panels, lists, awards, food festivals and invite them.
  • In some areas, things have improved, in others, not so much: World’s 50 Best Restaurants list still has ZERO restaurants run by female chefs (not including women paired with fathers/husbands).

A panel titled Made in the Bay: The City, My Career, and Me featured Dominique Crenn, Joyce Goldstein, Elisabeth Prueitt, Emily Lucchetti, and Gabriela Camara. Highlights:

  • “Never apologize to a man. Ever." — Dominique Crenn
  • An interesting note is that the AIDS crises was the first event that woke this community up to its activist power. It was the first time this community organized around a cause because it affected SO many people in the industry. “People in the restaurant business were dying left and right,” said chef Traci Des Jardins

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Alice Waters, the grand dame of California cuisine, was the keynote speaker:

  • Her big piece of advice to everyone is to just be a better consumer. "Everything that we buy, every single day, everything that we eat: We should buy with intention."
  • On never getting a response to her open letter to Amazon from Jeff Bezos: “If you don’t speak up, you don’t have the possibility of hearing back.”
  • Regardless, she wants to pitch Jeff Bezos on an investment fund for female restaurateurs and "good food" in general. She also wants to rip out the insides of every Whole Foods and put farmers markets in them.
  • "Amazon is changing the way we shop in a very dangerous way." Waters related a recent visit to Whole Foods’ affordable 365 store in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. She said it was "very scary to me." She was also dismayed by how much food there was and how few humans were around.
  • And, she still wants to retire to an intergenerational commune where they can make tortillas while rocking babies.

Other speakers included Mandy Aftel, a boutique perfumier whose book with Daniel Patterson, The Art of Taste, is out now. Meals were provided by an impressive array of local chefs and makers like Kim Alter of Nightbird, Fernay McPherson of Minnie Bell’s Soul Food Movement, La Brea Bakery, Cowgirl Creamery, and more.