Just how hard is it to achieve celebrity chefdom? Consider that male star chefs dominate the Strip (Gordon Ramsay alone has five restaurants), but you can count the number of female celebrity chefs on one hand. In addition to having their names on kitchens, these women are authors and television personalities, too, earning their rightful place at the head of the table.
Mary Sue Milliken & Susan Feniger - Border Grill
The duo paved the road for future female chefs to come, opening Border Grill at Mandalay Bay in 1999 and introducing the Valley to gourmet Mexican fare.
Giada De Laurentiis - Giada and Pronto
It was a big deal when the Food Network star opened her eponymous eatery five years ago. The beautiful dining room is matched only by the attention to detail the chef lavishes upon her food.
Christina Tosi - Milk Bar
Tosi’s bakery at the Cosmopolitan brings a Midwestern homespun sweetness that’s impossible to resist. But don’t let that fool you: Milk Bar, with 16 locations so far in North America, is set to conquer the world.
Lorena Garcia - Chica
Chica recently celebrated two years at the Venetian, but it feels like Garcia—the first Latin American woman to open a restaurant on the Strip—has been part of our brunch-loving lives forever. –Genevie Durano
The Boss Lady
It’s hard to overstate the impact restaurateur Elizabeth Blau has had on Las Vegas’ culinary landscape, on and off the Strip. As the founder and CEO of Blau + Associates, she’s credited with changing the way fine dining operates in Las Vegas, starting with the opening of the Bellagio and the launch of Simon Kitchen + Bar at the Hard Rock Hotel in the early 2000s. In Summerlin, she and her husband, chef Kim Canteenwalla, are defining neighborhood dining with locals’ favorite Honey Salt and the upscale Andiron Steak & Sea. She’s also a trustee at the Culinary Institute of America and serves on the international advisory board at the UNLV College of Hospitality. “There’s a lot of really tremendously talented, strong women out there,” Blau says. “[And] there are a lot of great women mentoring other women and men.” –Leslie Ventura
The Culinary Creative
Jolene Mannina has become a fixture in the local food scene. The entrepreneur is the brains behind the popular Back of House Brawl (which was featured on FYI Network as Late Night Chef Fight), and she helmed the culinary program for the inaugural Life Is Beautiful festival in 2013. Recently, Mannina launched SecretBurger.com, a pop-up dining concept that brings together chefs and foodies in a new way. Staged in Las Vegas and 12 other cities, SecretBurger.com events are tailor-made for the social media age. Up next for Mannina: Picnic in the Alley on October 6, which will bring the Valley’s female culinary talent to Fergusons Downtown. “It’s highlighting and celebrating the women in the culinary industry, and the women who tie it all together,” Mannina says. –Leslie Ventura
Long hours in the kitchen and a demanding, fast-paced work environment aren't limited to chefs making savory food. It takes incredible patience and precision to create delicious and beautiful pastries and desserts in Las Vegas, and these women have both in spades.
Harlee Morrow - Pastry chef, Sparrow + Wolf
It isn’t every day that you find a vegan pastry chef working in a restaurant that caters to carnivores, but that’s exactly what Seattle transplant Morrow does at chef Brian Howard’s celebrated Chinatown haunt, where she creates both vegan and non-vegan treats for the masses.
Robyn Lucas - Executive Pastry chef, Giada
Lucas has always been drawn to the artistry and the fine-tuned, scientific approach behind pastry. Prior to her role at Giada, Lucas worked under Daniel Boulud at the now-shuttered DB Brasserie. “It’s definitely an absolute labor of love,” she says. For dessert, she recommends the top-selling chocolate hazelnut crunch or her zesty limoncello soufflé.
Brigette Contreras - Executive pastry chef, STK
Contreras originally went to school to become a savory chef, but she fell into pastry while in California, eventually landing a job at STK in LA. As the executive pastry chef for the entire STK brand, Contreras focuses on teaching her creations and coming up with inventive desserts, like her new 25-layer crepe cake.
Jin Caldwell - Master chocolatier, JinJu Chocolates
Caldwell’s chocolates are works of art, and they’re just as delicious as they look. Before launching JinJu Chocolates in 2011, she was a chocolatier and pastry chef at Bellagio and Wynn, a master chocolatier for Ethel M’s and was the only woman named “one of the top 10 chocolatiers” in North America by Pastry Arts magazine in 2009. –Leslie Ventura
Sushi: The Final Frontier?
If you’ve ever eaten sushi, odds are it was prepared by a man. In 2015, restaurant guide Zagat stated that the “cuisine is woefully behind on gender equality.” But why? Traditionally, Japanese culture is very patriarchal, and even today women in the island nation face discrimination in many fields. According to The Japan Times, the country has one of the lowest rates in the world for female political participation. Then there are myths—which we’re loath to even repeat—about menstruation affecting taste and women having warmer hands. The Zagat article even posited that sushi is a continuation of the samurai tradition, with a focus on discipline and perfection, and knives being crafted in the same way as samurai swords.
But in the tradition-drenched world of sushi, times are changing. Female sushi chefs are establishing themselves around the globe. There’s a female-owned sushi restaurant in Tokyo called Nadeshiko that launched in 2010 with an all-female staff. “I wanted the sushi world to change, and I realized I had to start that change,” Nadeshiko chef-owner Yuki Chidui told Tokyo Weekender in April, when she opened a sushi academy to help female chefs (although it is open to all).
In Las Vegas, female sushi chefs are still quite a rarity. We found one: Sabrina Goh, 21, who began training to become a sushi chef in Northern California when she was still in high school. “I saw that there were not many girls in that field, so I decided to take up a challenge,” says Goh, who moved to Vegas nearly two years ago. She worked at RA sushi on the Strip and then at Sushi Kame before taking a break from the profession. She’s pursuing a business degree and wants to open her own business in the culinary field one day.
Goh says people shouldn’t be quick to judge a chef’s potential based on gender or national background. “Anybody can learn anything,” she says. –C. Moon Reed