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March is National Women’s History Month, an opportunity to celebrate the contributions and achievements of women. Here, we recognize a fresh crop of female icons emerging within industries that literally feed humanity. Really, anywhere a foodie traveler explores, women graciously invite all to their tables. While many more women deserve appreciation and notice, we trust those featured here will inspire your future culinary travel.
Fort Worth, Texas
Fort Worth became an integral trading post for cowboys traveling the Chisholm Trail during the latter part of the 19th century. But cowboys didn’t necessarily steal the show: Cowgirls roped their share of her-story, too. These days, Fort Worth spans the massive region of North Central Texas.
Just a few steps off Camp Bowie’s vintage brick, James Beard Award nominated Chef Bria Downey is getting ready to reopen Roy Pope Grocery in Fort Worth. A Cowtown establishment that originally opened in 1943, the town’s original neighborhood grocer has been reimagined and opening soon as a destination for takeaway meals, an extensive coffee and wine bar, full-service butcher counter, artisan bakery, and locally-sourced groceries.
Formerly the chef at Fort Worth’s popular Clay Pigeon Food & Drink, Chef Bria has also been busy during the pandemic, taking part in various pop-ups and even creating her own soup line, Soigné Soups.
Bria and her identical twin sister Tia—who is the beverage director at the new Fort Worth music venue Tulips—were raised as self-described “military brats” in the U.S. and abroad and eventually settled in Fort Worth. Though they say they bounced around after culinary school, they celebrate having landed here in Fort Worth and find the area particularly special in the way women lift each other up here in the food and beverage community.
Photo Credit: Jordan Mahoney
Established in 1733, Savannah has gone to great lengths to preserve its original aesthetic with laws protecting even its lack of a skyline. Arts, culture, and even its flavors match its storied past.
Born in the Bronx, raised in Queens, Mashama Bailey spent most of her grammar school years in Savannah where her family’s matriarchs taught her the Southern cooking cannon. As executive chef of The Grey, a painstakingly-restored 1938 art deco Greyhound Bus Terminal turned revered Southern restaurant, Mashama garnered the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Southeast award in 2019. The late Southern foodie icon Edna Lewis heavily influences Mashama’s menu, so you can expect elevated, regionally-sourced classics with Mashama’s twist. The port city’s fare is paired with European wines and Atlantic trade liquors.
Photo Credit: Chia Chong
Most recently hailing from nearby Cumberland Island where she wrote her first cookbook, The Saltwater Table, Executive Chef Whitney Otawka takes to the helm of all three restaurants in the new Thompson Savannah in Eastern Wharf, slated to open this summer. Her signature restaurant will be located on the ground floor of the lifestyle hotel and will showcase her modern perspective on Southern cuisine with a strong emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients native to the Lowcountry. If summer isn’t fast enough to satisfy your cravings, get Whitney’s cookbook to tide you over.
Libbie Summers fancies herself a “smile slinger” and for good reason. Peruse @libbiesumers on Instagram for more than a second and there’s no doubt: She’s cooked for American presidents, on yachts, at the fanciest of soirees, and yet remains about as real and down to earth as can be. One of her most popular culinary services in Savannah includes truly one-of-a-kind, enviable picnics all set up ready to savor—and not only the spread, but also her creative designs and vignettes set up in one of those historic downtown squares.
Photo Credit: Libbie Summers
Way beyond its deep-dish pizza, Chicago is home to an array of native eats, the Chicago Blues unforgettable architecture, museums, and other cultural attributes—plus women tastemakers.
Classically-trained Chef Dominique Leach ventured out on her own from her work at Michelin- star Spiaggia and The Four Seasons Hotel with little more than determination to prove to herself that she could make it independently. It started with her food truck that paid homage to her Southern grandparents. After the truck was set ablaze, she opened three locations—all within 10 months!—of one of Chicago’s newest restaurants: Lexington Betty Smokehouse. Combining the culture from her Lexington, Mississippi roots with the smoking techniques she learned in Chicago, Dominique quickly became part of an elite few: the female pitmaster. Savor her succulent smoked meats paired with soul food staples at her locations in the neighborhoods of Pullman, Near West Side, and Galewood.
In a city of over 100 breweries, ERIS is Illinois’ first owned and operated by women. Michelle Foik and Katy Pizza bought the Irving Park building in July 2015. When the two women first walked into the old Masonic temple built in the 1900s and later converted into a Korean church, they knew this big, beautiful open space would be home to their brewery and cider house. Eris is named for the Greek goddess notorious for causing mayhem: The story goes that Eris threw the golden apple of discord into a party that she wasn’t invited to, thus creating a chaotic scene as every goddess in attendance scrambled for its beauty. Michelle and Katy work to ensure all who come feel welcome. The food menu tantalizes carnivores as well as vegans. Beverages run the gamut, though flights are a must to taste variety.
Cheers to all the women who continue stepping over shattered glass! “If you’re not in a good mood, the only thing you should make is a reservation.” —Chef Carla Hall