Some of the best storytelling takes place at the dinner table. And some of those great stories come not from the people sitting around the table, but from the food itself. Food tells a story, but not only about the cuisine of a culture. Food primarily, and most fascinatingly, relates the story of the cooks behind it. One meal can divulge a cook’s values, for example: If he or she believes in local, sustainable fare, or is a vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free. A meal can tell tales about a cook’s travels—the wonderful recipes from one’s wanderings, or even a simple summer abroad. A meal can disclose one’s roots, and how far that cook has come from that place, yet still hold it dear. A meal can also reveal a cook’s creativity, by taking one’s culinary memories and in turn, making a dish that tastes brand new.
In our first edition, we shared the stories of four very different, accomplished women who cook for a living. Their accounts were so engaging that we decided to extend the theme to include four more female chefs, again with diverse backgrounds, who all came to cooking in different ways. As in the first edition, these four chefs reveal their journeys through their kitchens and recipes; readers in turn learn where they have been, where they are going, and how food has opened up worlds for them, professionally, culturally, and spiritually.
As women continue to gain traction in the culinary industry, proficient chefs such as Carmen Gonzalez, Rachel Graville, Sara Jenkins, and Sarah Simmons are making professional kitchens a more inclusive place. We asked these four chefs to share recipes that take the reader on a journey relating the experiences of their lives both in and out of the kitchen. Through the recipes and stories presented in this e-book, the home cook can come along as a participant—not just as an observer—in our chefs’ journeys.
Carmen Gonzalez’s journey began on the west coast of Puerto Rico in the small town of Aguadilla. The gutsy young woman left her hometown to open a café in Old San Juan, on the other side of the island, when she was just 19 years old. There, she learned some harsh business lessons but the experience bolstered her resolve to pursue cooking as a career. After moving to New York and graduating from the New York Restaurant School, Carmen landed a job at New York City’s esteemed Quilted Giraffe, where she worked under the legendary chef Barry Wine. She then decamped for Miami, where she commandeered the popular restaurants Clowns and Carmen the Restaurant, which was named Best New Restaurant by Esquire magazine when it opened in 2003. In 2012 she unveiled Carmen at the Danforth in Portland, Maine, which was awarded Eater.com’s Best Restaurant in Maine. Fans of television cooking shows know Carmen for Top Chef Masters Season 2, and for her current Spanish language cooking show, La Chispa de Chef Carmen Gonzalez on the MGM Latin America channel, which entertains 22 million viewers in 20 countries. Carmen is currently at work on her first cookbook and opening a new restaurant in New York City. Her recipes here demonstrate her growth from regional Puerto Rican cooking to Latin-influenced American cuisine.
The world primed Sara Jenkins’s palate, and her career. Growing up in Lebanon, Italy, France, and Spain, Sara’s love of food was born in the Mediterranean. Her parents—a foreign correspondent father and writer mother—always embraced the widely varied flavors of every country they visited in their many travels. Sara was the beneficiary of the cultural—and culinary—education each country brought. As her mother, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, grew into a world-famous food and cookbook writer, Sara didn’t consider cooking professionally until she found herself on the wrong career path. After studying art in the U.S. and working as a photographer, Sara found that she only felt at home in the kitchen. She transitioned into the culinary field in Boston, working under Barbara Lynch and Todd English, before returning to Florence to sharpen her skills in Tuscan cooking. Sara came back to the U.S. and made a splash as a chef at leading New York City Italian restaurants such as I Coppi and Il Buco, and by penning her own cookbook, Olives and Oranges: Recipes and Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Beyond. In 2008 she opened Porchetta, a storefront devoted to Italian-style roasted pork sandwiches, in the city's East Village. It spurred her next restaurant, Porsena, just down the block, a wildly popular neighborhood Italian spot that made her a semi-finalist for the 2013 James Beard Foundation Awards. Sara’s journey pays homage to the food of her upbringing, with a mission to demonstrate the simplicity and purity of the Mediterranean table.
A Food & Wine magazine contest prompted Sarah Simmons to change careers and cook for a living. Born and raised in North Carolina, Simmons attended the University of Georgia, then worked in Atlanta and New York as a retail strategist for international companies, including Pokemon. Always a devoted and enthusiastic home cook, and inspired by her caterer mother, Simmons was picked from thousands of contest entrants as the winner of Food & Wine's Home Cook Superstar for her Bittersweet Chocolate Tart with Pumpkin Seed Brittle. The prize: A trip to the Cayman Food & Wine Festival where she rubbed elbows with culinary luminaries such as Eric Ripert and José Andrés. After those chefs encouraged her to cook for a living, Sarah settled in New York City and opened City Grit, a culinary salon where she shares the kitchen with visiting chefs from around the country. Simmons has since been named one of America’s Greatest New Cooks by Food & Wine. Her recipes here evoke a two-fold part of her culinary journey: The time she spent studying and working in Japan along with her upbringing in the American South. Through her recipes, Sarah finds the common ground between these two seemingly disparate cuisines.
Rachel Graville could say that her career-changing mother—a public health nurse turned baker—blazed the trail for her own career. Growing up in Washington State and its outlying islands, Rachel found herself washing dishes at age 14 in the bakery where her mother worked. She then entered a baking contest, and won. It was then that it sunk into her that the culinary arts were something she should consider to pursue professionally. Summer employment and odd jobs through school made her gravitate even closer to the field. Her penchant for food policy and international politics led her to an inspiring internship with Slow Food in New York City, initially intending to stay for just a few months. She ended up settling in the Big Apple, and nine years later had made her mark as chef and proprietor of Brooklyn Heights’s popular Iris Café (named after her mom), which was named Best Café by New York Magazine. Most importantly in her story of cooking, however, is how Rachel’s tastes took a turn after she had an epiphany concerning the effect of heavily processed and sugary foods on the body. Her journey reflects her return to cooking and eating traditional, wholesome foods.
For easy travels through this cookbook, use only the freshest ingredients possible; taste your creations and adjust to your personal preferences; click the links, study the pictures and videos, but most importantly, enjoy. Both editions of The Journey are your passport to world cuisines, and also the vehicle to understanding the influences, and the worlds, of incredible women chefs.