Since the turn of the century, women’s rights and awareness have evolved significantly. Today, the word ‘feminism’ is the topic of many conversations and is thrown around lightly. Millennials in particular have become consumed by this idea and feel that it is a crucial aspect of society to respect. Though there has been substantial change here, there are still many industries that are strictly male dominated. One of which is the food industry, more specifically restaurants and the under-representation of women leading in the kitchen as head chefs. In the light of recent events in New Orleans, I began thinking about world renowned female chefs that have a strong presence in this culinary driven city. I found it odd that more often than not, the restaurants that are highlighted have male chefs running the kitchen. So, I wanted to take this opportunity to give some credit where credit is due.
Nina Compton, head chef of Compère Lapin, was a recent addition to the national list of Best New Chefs. She competed on season 11 of Top Chef on Food Network and has turned heads in the culinary world. Compère Lapin is her first restaurant and opened in 2015. Located in the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery, Compton created a feeling of bringing the past to the present with the design and modernity of her menu. Compton grew up in St. Lucia, whose folktales she read as a young child were what inspired Compère Lapin. The menu she created reflects both Compton’s old and new homes. Caribbean flavors from her upbringing paired with her love for both French and Italian cuisines, while also throwing in some flavors from the Gulf is the complete essence of Compère Lapin. Compton has truly made a difference in the New Orleans restaurant business and is for sure on my restaurant bucket list.
PHOTOS: COMPERE LAPIN
Kelly Fields, head chef at Willa Jean, named her first restaurant after her Grandmother who inspired her to pursue her passions. Having grown up in the South, many of Field’s dishes have that recognizable southern charm. From her incredible spinach dip to her outstanding chocolate chip cookies, there is nothing on her menu that will disappoint. In 2016 alone, Southern living magazine named Fields “Southern kitchen magicians”, she was nominated for a James Beard award for Outstanding Pastry Chef (2017 as well), and won Eater New Orleans’ “Chef of the Year” and “Readers’ Choice” Awards. She was also named one of the most influential people in the South by Garden & Gunn magazine, as well as being named one of the top ten pastry chefs in America by Dessert Professional Magazine. Fields has accomplished so much while also bringing back to the New Orleans community so much of what they have given to her. She has developed relationships with local farmers and producers, and even works closely as a mentor for Chefs Move! scholarship recipients. Fields is truly an incredible addition to the chef community in New Orleans.
PHOTOS: WILLA JEAN
Lastly, Kristin Essig is the head chef at Coquette, a hot spot on Magazine. Born and raised in Florida, Essig came to New Orleans 17 years ago where she worked closely with Emeril Lagasse at Emeril’s. She has been named a “Chef to Watch” by various culinary/life magazines, such as Louisiana Cookin’ Magazine and was a James Beard Semifinalist for “Best Chef in the South” this year. Since her arrival in New Orleans, Essig has been involved in many different aspects of the New Orleans culinary community. Both in and out of the kitchen, she has made a great impact on New Orleans as a whole. She was marketing manager for the Crescent City Farmers Market where she developed close-knit relationships with local farmers, producers, and vendors. These relationships she built allowed for her to make an impact on locally sourced products by utilizing them in her kitchen. Essig finally settled down in 2016 at Coquette, where she became co-chef and owner with her partner, Michael Stoltzfus. Coquette’s menu offers a contemporary southern cuisine with international inspiration. They strive to be a neighborhood gathering spot that is perfect for special occasions. Kristin put it best when she said, “Everyone says it’s difficult to be a female chef, but I find the New Orleans community is very accepting and willing to share.”
Though this industry has proven to be male dominated, “women chefs in New Orleans are finding ways to flourish and are turning heads in the culinary world.” (gonola.com) They are finding ways to come out of their predecessor’s shadows and make a name for themselves. So many female chefs are coming out of the woodwork and making incredible impacts on the industry.
GRAPHIC: Vicky Novak