#BombeSquad: How Women Run the Kitchen (and the World)

Team OpenTable spent the weekend as sponsors of the 4th annual Cherry Bombe Jubilee, two days of networking, conversation, and celebration among some of the coolest, most successful, and most inspiring women in the world of food. Throughout the course of the Jubilee we had the honour and privilege of hearing from leaders like chefs Stephanie Izard, Barbara Lynch, and Elisabeth Prueitt, in addition to renowned scholars, activists, and bloggers.

What makes the Jubilee so special is that it’s all about learning, growing, and lifting each other up. Time and time again we were humbled to hear stories of challenges, failures, disappointments, and new beginnings – the highs, the lows, and everything in between. By sharing openly and honestly and being willing to be vulnerable, we all got a little bit smarter and stronger. Old adages were challenged and turned on their heads; outdated notions and expectations were thrown out.

Here, we have a few takeaways from an important, empowering day and truly awe-inspiring group.

Let them see you sweat. Stephanie Izard, chef/owner of Chicago’s Girl & the Goat, Duck Duck Goat, and Little Goat Diner, said that the people who are most successful are the ones who work harder than everyone else. To be a great manager, you have to be willing to do anything you’re asking other people to do. They will notice, respect you for it, and it will pay off.

Business is personal. Remember the saying “it’s not personal, it’s business?” Izard insisted business is inherently personal when you’re doing what you love to do. If she’s walking through one of her restaurants and sees a gum wrapper on the floor, she takes it personally that no one else bothered to pick it up. That’s okay; that’s how you lead with heart.

Never let yourself be validated. Top Chef season 10 winner Kristen Kish worked for Barbara Lynch early in her career, and she admitted that as a young cook, she lacked confidence. Does Barbara ever feel that? “Every day,” Barbara said without a moment of hesitation. She’s never rested on her laurels or – even after receiving a James Beard Award – believed in her own hype.

Perfection is a disease. Barbara vowed when she opened her first restaurant that it would be focused on education, ongoing learning, and developing the people who worked there. She’s always believed failure is positive when you learn from it. Perfection, she said, “stops you from growing and being humble.”

Break all the rules. “I never thought small, only big,” Barbara said, adding that if a dream is small, it will disappear a lot faster. She’s always aimed big with her restaurants and career (next, she wants to open a women-owned bank!) with the idea that you can always scale back. “I hate rules; I like breaking them.” She mentioned that she hopes her daughter will be every bit as risky as she was: “She can be anything she wants to be.”

Be critical… When Tartine Bakery Chef Elisabeth Prueitt’s daughter was born with special needs, Elisabeth stepped away from the business for years to travel and research therapies that might help. What she saw was that for women, people of colour, and people with disabilities, infrastructure often just wasn’t fair. “We have to be critical and say, this has to get better,” she said. Demand more.

…And don’t worry about being “polite.” Elisabeth remembered a time when Tartine Bakery was covered in a magazine, which ran photos of her pastries all over the cover – then, in the article, referred to her only as “Chad’s wife.” (Her husband Chad Robertson is also her business partner.) She posted about it on Facebook and got a huge reaction from her audience, plus an apology from the publisher. She loves seeing women today, including her daughter, being more vocal and “ballsy” than ever.

Photo courtesy of Cherry Bombe.

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