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7 Female Chefs Behind the 2016 WomenCook!

A chef presenting food at the 2015 WomenCook event

A chef presenting food at the 2015 WomenCook event

For a dozen years, WomenCook!—hosted by Work Options for Women (WOW)—has been bringing together female chefs in Denver to help women lift themselves out of poverty through meaningful employment in the food service industry. There are so many things we love about this event—not only does it support a noble cause, but it also showcases the brilliant women behind some of Denver’s best kitchens. Oh, and did we mention there’s a ton of amazing food?

We asked seven women participating in the 2016 WomenCook!, which will be held on Monday, May 2 from 5-9pm at Temple Emanuel {51 Grape Street, Denver}, about their mentors, the challenges women face in the culinary world, and their menus for this year.

Aniedra Nichols

Aniedra Nichols
Title: Executive Chef, Fish N Beer (formerly executive chef at Elway’s Cherry Creek)
Involved since: 2009
How WomenCook! has changed since she joined: “It has been a wonderful experience and not much has changed throughout the years. There are the same familiar faces and great energy.”
Her mentors: “Jack Donovan—he trained me at the Fourth Story in 2003 out of culinary school and has seen and been through a lot of ‘battles’ in the kitchen.”
On culinary gender equality challenges: “You don’t have to act like a man to be in any industry. Just be true to yourself and everything should work in your favor. I believe that is a lesson for all facets of life; we as women also can dominate without stereotype.”
Challenges she’s faced as a woman: “I never really faced any challenges because I was raised by a strong military mom. She taught me how to stand up for myself while still respecting your elders, superiors, and yourself. I have always said what I feel and stand by my opinions, if warranted … Thank you mom!”
What she’s cooking this year: “Trout Salad with Charred Ramp Dressing on Endive. I picked fish because I see a lot of meat and want to cook seasonally and light.”

Carrie Shores

Carrie Shores
Title: Executive Chef, Work Options for Women
Involved since: 2014
How WomenCook! has changed since she joined: “This will be my third year participating, however, I’m particularly excited about this year’s event since I’ll be presenting as the Executive Chef Instructor at WOW.”
Her mentees: “I am fortunate enough to mentor students every day in the WOW kitchen. It gives me a great sense of pride that the skills and knowledge they received in our program will provide them with the confidence and readiness necessary to fulfill their dreams.”
Her mentors: “I have worked with quite a few amazing chefs in my career. Nonetheless, my most memorable is Chef Scott Parker. Scott taught me a lot about technique and food pairing, but above all, he taught me to be confident in my abilities as a chef and mentor. Scott believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.”
On culinary gender equality challenges: “As a female chef, I believe that as long as we keep allowing gender discrimination to cloud our industry, it will continue to cast a shadow. As we progress, I am hopeful that people will focus less on gender and more on community.”
What she’s cooking this year: A Little Sammie with lamb neck pastrami, Swiss frico, braised cabbage, and watermelon radish aïoli on pumpernickel.


Elise Wiggins
Title: Executive Chef, Panzano
Involved since: 2005
On culinary gender equality challenges: “It just takes women wanting to be in the professional kitchen and doing it.”
Challenges she’s faced as a woman: “I was told I couldn’t do it. This drove me even more.”
What she’s cooking this year: Chicken Garganelli to represent the Italian food at Panzano.

Mary Nguyen

Ngyuen (center) at last year’s event

Mary Nguyen
Title: Executive Chef/Owner, P17 and Olive & Finch
Involved since: 2009
How WomenCook! has changed since she joined: “It draws larger crowds year after year. This is great because the demonstrated growth not only raises more money for a good cause, but it also proves that more women are in leadership roles in the industry and community.”
Her mentors: “I worked for a female chef in my early days in the service industry. I learned a lot from her … I found her strength, dedication, and approach to problem-solving inspiring. It was because of her that I realized that I could not only survive, but also be successful in this business.”
On culinary gender equality challenges: “I think the most important issue in this industry is to look at men and women equally. I don’t think we will overcome the issue of female culinary empowerment until we view each other as genderless peers.”
Challenges she’s faced as a woman: “I think the fact that I am both a woman and a minority generated a unique type of discrimination. People can make assumptions about your worth and potential in the industry. The fact that I was both a chef and business owner heightened those assumptions. I found that I couldn’t ‘act like a man’ because I would be perceived as too assertive, and I couldn’t ‘act like a woman’ because I would be perceived as too passive. It was a difficult path to navigate, but once I became confident that I could be myself, regardless of the reaction from people, then success came.”

Sheila Lucero

Sheila Lucero
Title: Executive Chef, Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar
Involved since: 2005
How WomenCook! has changed since she joined: “The event has evolved and grown from year to year. There seems to be more women not only in the kitchens of Denver, but running kitchens. I’s great to see the same faces and meet new ones every year!”
Her mentors: “For 18 years and still to this day, Jamey Fader has been my mentor. I lean on him more than anyone and he has always given me sound advice.”
On culinary gender equality challenges: “Probably for people to stop comparing men to women in the kitchen. Bottom line, we are all cooks. If you are passionate and capable, it shouldn’t matter if you are a male or female.”
Challenges she’s faced as a woman: “I don’t feel like I have had many challenges because I was female. I have always taken pride in my work ethic. I will out-work anyone and my peers have always shown me respect for that reason.”
What she’s cooking this year: Hickory Smoked Salmon and Spring Mushroom Soup with garlic scapes and horseradish.

Kathleen of Gateaux

Davia (left) at last year’s event

Kathleen Kenny Davia
Title: Owner, Gateaux Bakery
Involved since: 2005
How WomenCook! has changed since she joined: “The event has held true to its beginning serving great food for an amazing cause! The only changes that I have seen is that the number of chefs have doubled and the attendance has increased as well.”
Her mentees: “I am heavily involved with the JWU [Johnson & Wales University] internship program. Every semester, I get a new student. It is very rewarding to mentor a student and see how they grow as a chef and professional in the time they spend working with you.”
On culinary gender equality challenges: “I have never seen a disparity of men and women in the culinary industry. I feel that if you work hard and are dedicated to your craft, nothing will hold you back.”
Challenges she’s faced as a woman: “I never faced a lot of challenges as a woman, but I do feel you have to be thick-skinned to be a chef. When you are working with more men on a daily basis, you cannot bring drama, personal issues, etc. to your job … The only other challenge as a female chef is the balance of having a family and a career. Being a mother is a full-time job, as well as being a bakery owner and pastry chef.”
What she’s cooking this year: “In honor of Gateaux’s 17th anniversary and complete renovation of our space, we are going to serve varieties of our cake (that is what Gateaux means in French) to showcase the different looks we can create as well as the many flavors we can customize.”

Nadine Donovan

Nadine Donovan
Title: Pastry Chef, Secret Sauce F&B
Involved since: This is Donovan’s first year
Why she’s excited to participate: “The opportunity to cook alongside so many empowering female chefs for such a wonderful case is an honor. There is no doubt that it will be one of the most unforgettable and rewarding events of the year!”
Her mentors: “One of the first restaurants I worked in was led by Chef Bob Blair, formerly of Denver’s Fuel Cafe. Even as a young female, I was treated as an equal in his kitchen … Bob changed the way I perceived food and taught me how to compose a balanced dish. Without his knowledge, I truly wouldn’t be the chef I am today.”
On culinary gender equality challenges: “It is important that we continue to defeat the negative stigma and stereotypes that have been created around female chefs. We can best overcome this challenge through mentorship. Being role models to young female cooks will help to build a balanced and gender equal future … Perception and recognition are two major areas that challenge women in professional kitchens. While there are many notable female chefs in history, very few are recognized at the highest levels … it takes significantly more time and dedication to prove yourself as a female chef.”
What she’s cooking this year: “WomenCook! is all about passion, from the dedication of the chefs and the support of the guests, to the overall impact. To best represent that sentiment, I will be creating a passionfruit tart topped with toasted coconut meringue and raspberry gelee.”

These seven chefs are just a few of the many who will serve at the 2016 WomenCook! event. Other participating chefs include Sandra Adams (Grand Hyatt), Jennifer Jasinski (rioja, Euclid Hall, Stoic & Genuine, and Bistro Vendôme), Jenna Johansen (Epicurean Group), Summer Polson (Project Angel Heart), Cindhura Reddy (Spuntino), Dana Rodriguez (Work & Class), and Samm Sherman (Craftsy).

For more information about WomenCook!, visit workoptions.org/womencook