It is not requisite to label these chefs as female, because their “Chef” titles have been earned through blood, sweat and burns, not the presence of two X chromosomes — that was just luck. But here at StyleBlueprint, we enjoy celebrating women. So today, we recognize 11 female chefs and restaurateurs, yes, for being female, but also for their abiding impact on Nashville’s culinary scene. We posed one question to each, and everyone indulged with honest, intelligent answers.

These local ladies are creating amazing things in Nashville’s restaurants, and while our list is not exhaustive — with new restaurants opening every day, the list of female chefs has grown that long — it definitely gives a glimpse at the impact, experience and sheer talent they have in Music City’s top kitchens.

Kristin Beringson

Current gig: Executive Chef, Silo 
Former gigs: Executive Chef, Holland House; Executive Chef, City Winery
Culinary education: Art Institute of Nashville

Years in the business: 8
Extra credit: Kristin is a
Chopped champion.

What would you like to change about the dialogue surrounding women in the kitchen?

“When it comes to women in the kitchen, I think women and men are equals. There shouldn’t be any differentiation between them. Cooking is a merit-based sport, so to speak. Those who seek and are rewarded with the recognition, man or woman, should be treated as equals.”

A woman's place is, in fact, in the kitchen!
Kristin shared what it was like to be pregnant and running one of the hottest kitchens in town. Read about that here.

Margot McCormack

Current gig: Owner and Chef, Margot Café & Bar and Marché Artisan Foods
Former gigs: Chef, Danal; Chef de Cuisine and Executive Chef at F. Scott’s
Culinary education: Culinary Institute of America
Years in the business: many years in the industry, 15 years in her own restaurants
Extra credit: Acknowledged as a food pioneer in
The New York Times

How has the role/acceptance of women in the kitchen changed since you began your culinary career?

“I’m not sure that it has. One thing that has is my own perception. As I have gotten older and wiser I am able to understand the inequity of my profession. It’s not much different than any other profession —  think Hillary! It’s hard for women to get to the top. It’s much easier and more acceptable to be a pastry chef or front-of-house manager. If women do manage to get there, they have to be very careful about what persona to adopt (caring mother figure goes over way better than being demanding, which is often translated as ‘b*tch’). I have seen this played out over the years in all realms of my field — from purveyors who can’t help themselves from calling women ‘honey,’ to being asked or not asked to participate in events because of who are you going to want to socialize with, or even limiting a woman to a certain job depending on her responsibilities as a wife/mother. The amount of women chefs ebbs and flows over the years. It helps to have role models and women in position to help other women out.”

A woman's place is, in fact, in the kitchen!

Learn about Margot’s 15 years of experience running a restaurant here.

Seema Prasad

Current gig: Owner, Miel
Former gigs: Owner, Jet City Bistro; Owner, Trapeze
Years in the business: many years in the industry, 9 years in her own restaurant
Extra credit: Last year, Seema Prasad prevented more than 6,000 pounds of food from being thrown out. Read more here.

As a woman and force in Nashville’s culinary scene, what are you bringing to the table?

“I love to see more women entering the many disciplines involving food and wine! Women have a much more sensitive sense of taste and smell and tend to approach flavors from a different perspective. Otherwise, gender does not seem to separate the skill sets in the hospitality industry. Typically, people that enter these lines of work have great attention to detail, are multitaskers and have a great work ethic.”

A woman's place is, in fact, in the kitchen!
Miel is a longtime favorite of ours, and Seema is the one to thank!

Sarah Gavigan

Current gig: Owner and Chef, Little Octopus, Otaku Ramen, POP Nashville
Former gigs: 17 years in the film and music industry
Culinary education: Training with ramen master Shige Nakamura of Sun Noodle
Years in the business: 4
Extra credit: Otaku Ramen was Nashville’s first dedicated ramen shop.

Can you speak to the differences between all of your roles (chef, owner, front of house) and how being a woman in these roles is challenging and/or beneficial?

“I am a mother and a wife, which gives me a good majority of the skills I need to run a successful restaurant. X-ray vision, mind reading, bullet dodging and, let’s face it, damn good manipulation skills.”

A woman's place is, in fact, in the kitchen!
Here is Sarah Gavigan with Little Octopus Chef Daniel Herget.

Julia Sullivan

Current gig: Chef and Partner, Henrietta Red
Former gigs: Externship, Blue Hill at Stone Barns; Chef de Partie, Per Se; Private Chef; Chef, Franny’s; Chef/Kitchen Director, Haven’s Kitchen; Sous Chef, Pinewood Social
Culinary education: Culinary Institute of America
Years in the business: 12
Extra credit: Julia is a Nashville native who returned home after years in New York. 

Does being a woman allow you to approach food differently?

“Tough to say since I’m not a man, although I’ve worked for some great ones. In a culinary world where tasting menus reign and the focus is on exacting presentation and pursuance of the perfect bite, I think women tend to cook from a more soulful, nurturing place. Our food is more about romance and enjoyment at the table. We lead with femininity and conviviality, not with a need to prove ourselves. I say this with women like Alice Waters, Judy Rodgers and Nancy Silverton in mind. I think women in my generation are approaching things with a more male perspective, but I’d be thrilled to be categorized with those women some day.”

Allie Poindexter

Current gig: General Manager, Sommelier and Partner, Henrietta Red
Former gigs: Intern, Slow Food USA and Gourmet Live; Editorial Assistant,
Saveur Magazine; Server, Birreria; School Coordinator, Haven’s Kitchen
Years in the business: 6
Extra credit: Allie has a masters from New York University, Graduate School of Arts and Science in World History and Food Studies.

As a female in the restaurant/hospitality industry, what stereotypes do you face?

“Nashville is a really accepting and supportive town and there are quite a few female entrepreneurs doing incredible things here. I feel super lucky to be a part of such a talented group and to work with partners who care about the quality of our product and not the fact that we are women. The industry is changing and the mentality that restaurants are “boys clubs” is slowly dissipating. But there are definitely times when people ask for the General Manager or Sommelier and are a little confused or surprised when I arrive at the table. As a young woman, I have to work that much harder to prove myself.”

These two ladies (Julia, left, and Allie, right) are the forces behind the recently opened Henrietta Red. Read about how much we love it here. Image: Danielle Atkins Photography

Vui Hunt

Current gig: Founder and Executive Chef, Vui’s Kitchen and I Love Juice Bar
Former gigs: Owner and Chef, Veggieland; Marketing Team, Whole Foods Market
Years in the business: 21
Extra credit: Vui was born in Vietnam, and Vui’s Kitchen is an extension of her Vietnamese family traditions. 

How do you find balance in running these two businesses and maintaining your family life?

“There is no balance; perfect doesn’t have to be perfect. When John and I first started our family and the business, I asked my mom to come down from Chicago and help. She said okay, but that it would be a few months before she could come down to Nashville. That didn’t work for us. So I drove 10 hours to go get her and bring her back to Nashville just so we could have an extra set of hands and help.

“John is also super hands-on. He is a wonderful communicator, far better than me. I think our teamwork and ability to rely on one another is what makes it work. We are a team, we work as a team. That’s how we keep a balance.”

Vui’s enthusiasm is contagious! Learn more about her here.

Deb Paquette

Current gig: Chef and Partner, Etch and etc.
Former gigs: Chef and Owner, ZOLA; Executive Chef, Miel
Culinary education: Culinary Institute of America
Years in the business: many years in the industry, 5 years in her own restaurants
Extra credit: She has the distinction of being the first woman in Tennessee to qualify as a Certified Executive Chef.

Do you feel like gender still has a place in the kitchen?

“In my work and my world, there is no room for gender conflicts … we are one because that’s how I decided I wanted to live and share my beliefs. If you prove yourself with work ethic and determination (and not a pain in the ass!), you can be on my team no matter what your body parts tell you who you are! I have had painful moments with being a woman in a man’s world, but I took those negatives and made them into learning tools, most which took years to see! When I hire people, I look for personality traits of those who will not be judgmental and [who will] play nice with others. Being in a creative kitchen, many of us live outside the box and love the diversity of our work as well as the diversity of gender!”

A woman's place is, in fact, in the kitchen!
etc. is Deb’s latest venture. Read all about it here.

Jessica Benefield

Current gig: Chef and Co-Owner, Two Ten Jack
Former gigs: Executive chef at Virago
Culinary education: On the job learning
Years in the business: 20+ years, three years at Two Ten Jack
Extra credit: Jessica just won
 Nashville Scene‘s Iron Fork 2017 competition for the second time. 

What do you see as the biggest challenge women face in the kitchen? What are the greatest benefits?

“I certainly can’t speak for all women, but one major obstacle/challenge I’ve encountered over my 20+ years in restaurants that has not changed is the lack of real maternity leave. I’ve personally been in awe of women in my field who are able to maintain working 12+ hours a day, five or six days a week right up until their due date because they want to spend as much of the six weeks allowed with their newborn child. And then to go right back to that grind after giving birth — it’s remarkable to say the least. As for a great benefit, along the same lines, the employees in my restaurant all call me Mom. I run it with a very maternal spirit, and everyone there is my family. I think a woman’s natural maternal instinct is really a great benefit to her in any position of upper-management.”

A woman's place is, in fact, in the kitchen!
For friends outside of Nashville, Two Ten Jack has a second location in Chattanooga.

Kerri Roach

Current gig: Executive Chef, Nashville’s Hutton Hotel and 1808 Grille
Former gigs: Chef de Cusine, Enotria; Sous Chef, Flying Fish; Executive Chef, BOKA Restaurant + Bar at the Hotel 1000
Culinary education: Colorado Mountain College Culinary Institute
Years in the business: 16
Extra credit: Kerri just recently started at 1808 and completely revamped the menu. Stop by and taste what she’s bringing to the table.

What has most surprised you about being a woman in the restaurant industry?

“Talented female chefs have always been in the culinary industry, but women have not always been given the proper acknowledgement they deserve. I’m surprised, however, with the surge of female chefs in the industry today. When I started, there weren’t many women in the kitchen. Nashville is home to so many wonderful female chefs.”

Kerri Roach is in the kitchen at 1808 Grille! Image: Hutton Hotel

Martha Stamps

Current gig: Culinary Director, The Café at Thistle Farms
Former gigs: Chef, The Corner Market; Chef, The Yellow Porch; Owner and Chef, Martha’s at the Plantation; Owner and Chef, Martha Stamps Catering; Owner and Chef, Bergamot Market
Culinary education: Culinary Institute of America
Years in the business: more than 30 years
Extra credit: The Café is currently closed for renovations but will reopen this summer! Martha is putting together boxed lunches that are avaliable through May 1. Learn more here.

What advice do you have for women getting started in the culinary/hospitality industry?

“Do this because you love food and people and feeding people. When you feed people, you can open doors to new cultures, new experiences and new ways of thinking. You can also provide comfort and show people a common ground. I’m not just a chef, I’m a missionary. Money and fame are fleeting, particularly in this industry. I’ve been told that I care too much, but the caring is what keeps me going.”

See what Martha is cooking up at The Café at Thistle Farms!
See what Martha is cooking up at The Café at Thistle Farms! Image: Thistle Stop Cafe

Three cheers for these and all the talented women bolstering Nashville’s food scene!


Find local restaurants in the SB Guide and SB App.

About the Author
Alex Hendrickson

Alex is a Southern writer known for hunting down delicious stories and traveling the world with hunger. Her passions and interests lie in food, travel, interior design and inspiring people, and her dream is to eat a dozen oysters a day.