Head of the Table

By Candice Wagener | Photographed by Hillary Schave

Those of us who’ve read Anthony Bourdain’s 2000 tome “Kitchen Confidential” will never forget his debaucherous tales of the male-dominated, New York City restaurant scene he worked in during the ’80s and ’90s. Although Bourdain’s experiences were entertaining and cringe-worthy, his book did spotlight something that’s still true today: Restaurants are still run mostly by men. According to 2018 data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 23% of head chefs were women.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the restaurant industry is a work in progress when it comes to having diversity within leadership roles. While the industry as a whole employs a very diverse group of people, women and minorities are often relegated to lower-wage positions with little or no authority on how the restaurant functions. Owner and executive chef roles are still traditionally filled by white men, which contributes to another great irony: Women have traditionally been the backbone of home kitchens and family farms, but somehow, they’re not running the kitchens at some of our favorite restaurants.

While Madison’s restaurant scene is no exception, trail- blazers like Odessa Piper (founder of L’Etoile) and Tami Lax (owner of Harvest) paved the way for a new cohort of women who are focused on making change and taking their place in the industry. These seven industry leaders are proving that women belong at the head of the table.

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