In 2017, that nagging, draconian phrase “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” is taking on a whole new meaning, and by that we mean becoming totally meaningless. After decades of battling the boys' club for recognition — about half of culinary school grads are women but they make up only about 20 percent of chefs, does that seem very fair to you? — female chefs are finally getting accolades they deserve.
Creating a platform for this generation of female culinary-world rock stars is Lucky Peach Chief Operating Officer Brette Warshaw, who, at the age of 25, is reinventing how we devour the news of food. As inspiring as it is, Warshaw’s is no overnight success story — and luck has absolutely nothing to do with it. As a sophomore in college, she interned at foodie website Food52 and became Managing Editor upon graduating. Later, she was hired as Managing Editor at Lucky Peach, promoted to editor, and recently, all-the-way-up to COO. Attention college kids: time to apply for those internships (bonus points if they’re paid!).
If there’s one teachable moment in Warshaw’s rise in the ranks (and there are many), it’s that it pays to take the initiative. “I got my job at Food52 because I asked one of the founders, Amanda Hesser, if I could profile her for a creative writing class I was taking,” says the self-starting COO, who admits to having little business experience before accepting the role of COO. “From there, I got the internship, and got my foot in the door at a place that was poised for some really exciting growth. I would not be here today if I hadn't worked up the guts to ask her.” Learning on the job is just one of the many tricks this culinary chieftain excels at. “I’ve become a lot more sure of myself, mostly by forcing myself into unfamiliar situations and figuring them out, and emerging with new skills and perspective."
While Warshaw’s more operations, less knife skills, she’s no stranger to the double standards faced by the female chefs her team regularly reports on. “I've gotten things like ‘You must be Brette's assistant’ when I get on calls or walk into meetings—it's definitely surprising to some that a twenty-five year old woman would be at the other end of the table.” That a woman in her position, with her experience, is greeted with skepticism is hardly surprising — Glassdoor finds that female chefs make 28.3% less in base pay than their male counterparts. “At first, I would be shy or would make excuses or feel the need to justify what I was doing and where I was at. I don't do that anymore. If people don't take me seriously, that's their problem.”
Growing a cutting-edge food magazine into a “modern, sustainable, gangbuster” media business by the age of twenty-five is no small feat. Although you wouldn’t know it by her down-to-earth vibes and unpretentious appetite. She swears by a twice-weekly ritual of eating at the diner across the street from her apartment, accompanied only by her favorite magazines — “I feel like a superhuman afterwards!” For Warshaw, female empowerment means two things: “breaking glass and cashing checks.” AMEN. And by that we mean, HELL YES.
So, what’s next for this young culinary world mover-and-shaker changing the face of food media? Hopefully, she says, to be interviewed for the New York Times Corner Office section of the Sunday Business paper. Sounds more than doable.