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Five Charleston women tapped to serve on Atlanta Food & Wine's all-female advisory council

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Cynthia Wong, center, is the head pastry chef at Butcher & Bee. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival's 2018 advisory council is made up of more than 60 women, including five from Charleston: Ann Marshall of High Wire Distilling, Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill, Cynthia Wong of Butcher & Bee, Katy Keefe of McCrady's and Andrea Upchurch of Magnolias.

According to executive director Dominque Love, the council steers the direction of the festival programming. "It's not some big political statement," she says. "We've always had a focus and tried to be as inclusive as possible."

After last year's event, the festival decided an all-female council would shift the narrative and put a spotlight on those who are under-represented. 

"We are looking to them to define what's going on in the region," she says. 

Love says AFWF has always been a reflection of the South's food scene, and they will continue to present an authentic story of the South.  

All of the women on the advisory will participate, presenting what is likely the largest collection of women in the industry to a general audience. Love says the lack of female representation at festivals has not been an oversight for them, but a reality of the industry. Women might not be able to (or choose not to) leave their jobs or their restaurants or their children. They also might not be getting invited. 

“The issue is that generally women are not receiving the same invitations as their male counterparts," says Love. "Our move to an all-female Advisory Council was to change that. While we did invite more than the 60 women included in our council, we still had a 95% success rate.”

Nationally, acclaimed San Francisco chef Dominque Crenn has been shifting the narrative by demanding that "female" be dropped as a qualifier before "chef." At a food event in Cayman organized by Eric Ripert, Crenn posted a plea for her peers on Instagram: 

"I am here in the Cayman Islands," she wrote, "because I said yes to @ericripert when he invited me, as he invited a lot of my peers that are female, and unfortunately they declined. ... We must do better in understanding and listening why they declined. Let’s carve the way of change to help facilitate future attendance. .. all hands on deck." 

In Atlanta, Love says it's important to note that the festival will not be that different with women steering the program. "It's about what they're doing in the kitchen," she says. "Their food traditions are already contributing to Southern culture, they're just getting less attention for it."

Follow Stephanie Barna on Twitter @stefbarna.

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