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Female chefs not a rarity in Charleston anymore

  • Updated
Michelle Weaver (copy)

Chef Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill (SCPRT/Photo by Perry Baker)

The kitchen at Charleston Grill is not only run by a female – executive chef Michelle Weaver – but it’s also staffed by a majority of women. “It’s the first time in 20 years that women outnumber men in that kitchen,” says Weaver. “It’s by one, but that counts.”

Last week, as I interviewed Charleston Grill’s Michelle Weaver about being a 2018 S.C. Chef Ambassador, she was unaware that she was part of an all-female slate of chefs, and I was under strict instructions not to ruin the surprise. As we talked about her role as a woman in the professional kitchen, she bristled. “I don’t want to be seen as a female chef. I want to be seen as a chef.”

She earned her chops the old-fashioned way, working her way up in the French brigade system, taking her licks, hearing guest chefs say things like: “You have a female chef? Back home, we call that a wife.”

Needless to say, Weaver is not amused by that sort of thing, and she’s somewhat annoyed by the sudden spotlight on women. “A part of me says, you’re finally looking at women who’ve been here forever,” she says, “and now you want to victimize us? There’s more to us than that.”

Weaver was the only woman in the kitchen for years. “For a long time, it was where are the women and why aren’t they applying?” says Weaver. “Now they’re coming out of the woodwork.”

Indeed, they are. Bar Felix opened last week with Elizabeth Schultenover in charge of the kitchen. Nathan Thurston, who consulted on the opening, said they were just going to have simple snacks to complement the cocktail menu, but her food has proven so popular that they’re seeing people return again and again to eat.

Yesterday, Milller's All Day, an upcoming restaurant from Nathan Thurston and Geechie Boy Mill’s Greg Johnsman, announced two female chef hires: Madison Tessener as executive and DaVee Harned as pastry.

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Today, a note crossed the food desk from someone looking to hire a female chef for a restaurant they’re opening on Spring Street. While that may not even be legal, it’s encouraging to see women actively being recruited for leadership roles in the food and beverage industry.

During our conversation, Weaver and I listed the many females in head chef roles around town. You can actually count them on two hands, and if you added in the female restaurateurs, you’d have to use your toes too - and  you might even run out of digits. Now that’s progress. 

Here's a list of head chefs and restaurateurs at work in Charleston. Who did we leave out? Please let me know and I'll keep this list updated:

Head chefs:

  • Michelle Weaver at Charleston Grill
  • Elizabeth Schultenover at Bar Felix
  • Emily Hahn at the Getaway (soon to open)
  • Air Casebier at Basic Kitchen
  • Madison Tessener at Miller's All Day 
  • Kelly Franz at Magnolias
  • Jill Mathias at Chez Nous
  • Amalia Scatena at Cannon Green 
  • Chelsea Conrad at Butcher & Bee
  • Karnan Devlin at Morgan Creek Grill
  • Billie Littles at Toast of Charleston
  • Lisa Sheldon at Tabbuli Downtown
  • Sharon Aydlette at Tenacious Tart
  • Melanie Durant of Scram

Female restaurateurs:

  • Dana Berlin Strange at Jestine's
  • Martha Lou Gadsden at Martha Lou's
  • The women of Bertha's Kitchen
  • Lauren Mitterer at Wild Flour
  • Carrie Morey at Callie's Biscuits
  • Karalee Nielsen at Park Cafe
  • Nayda Freire at Faculty Lounge and upcoming Renzo
  • Jillian Schenzel at upcoming Semilla 
  • Kelly Chu at Red Orchids, Cirsea and upcoming Betty's Diner
  • Jennifer Kulick at Tattooed Moose
  • Greer Gilchrist and Cameron Neal at Harbinger Cafe

Follow Stephanie Barna on Twitter @stefbarna.

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