9 Women of Color Who are Changing the Food Industry

It is no surprise that white males dominate the positions of prominence in the food industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015, only 19.6 percent of the head cooks and chefs in America were women. Compare this to the 54.5 percent of women that make up the food industry as a whole— bartenders, dishwashers, line cooks, and servers. The data shows that while women make up a majority of the food sector, men continue to hold the positions of higher esteem.


The 2016 winner of the James Beard Foundation Awards alone, which honors achievement in the American food and drink industry, women made up 25 percent of the nominees and only 9 percent of those women were women ofcolor.

Despite these statistics, women of color are making strides as chefs and food business owners across the country.

Food Tank has come up with a list of women of color who are reshaping the food industry and shining a light on a group that is so rarely recognized.

1. Anita Lo

Anita Lo is the owner and award-winning chef of New York’s Annisa (meaning “women” in Arabic), specializing in the multicultural influences of Asian, French, and American cuisine. After a fire destroyed the restaurant, Lo reopened Annisa, and received three stars from New York Times food critic Pete Wells. Lo has also appeared on Top Chefs Masters and is the author of the cookbook Cooking Without Borders.

2. Claudia Wu.

Claudia Wu is the co-founder and creative director of the bi-annual food and fashion magazine Cherry Bombe. Wu has had stints at Visionaire, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New York Times before creating the ‘for women, by women’ indie food magazine.

3. Elia Herrera

Elia Herrera is the executive chef of Los Colibris in Toronto. Over a decade ago, Herrera moved to Canada from Mexico taking her family recipes with her. After working at multiple kitchens in the area, Herrera is now the head chef of Toronto’s first upscale Mexican restaurant.

4. Haile Thomas.

Haile Thomas is a motivational speaker, health advocate, and vegan chef all at the ripe age of 15. Thomas has cooked for First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House, co-founded The Happy Organization, a nonprofit that teaches children how to cook and enhance their leaderships, and has given a TEDxKids talk on the importance of good food and eating healthy.

5. Kavita Shukla.

Kavita Shulka is the founder and CEO of Fenugreen. Fenugreen is countering food waste with their product, Freshpaper. Dating all the way back to science experiments she performed when she was 12 years old, Shukla’s innovation uses antibacterial sheets infused with herbs to create a material that helps produce stay fresh longer.

6. Monica Garnes

Monica Garnes is the Vice President of Produce/Floral Merchandising & Procurement at Kroger. During her time she has advocated for more locally sourced produce in their chain stores. Over the past five years, Kroger has bought from 27 percent more local thanks to Garnes’ work.

7. Niki Nakayama.

Niki Nakayama is the head chef and owner of Japanese gourmet restaurant n/naka in Los Angeles, CA. She was featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. While Japanese cooking tends to be dominated by male chefs,  Nakayama has learned to stand out. Her first restaurant, Azami Sushi Café, was known for its all-female staff and earned the “Best Sushi” award for Citysearch in 2006.

8. Samantha V. Chizanga

Samantha V. Chizanga is a recent graduate of the George Brown Culinary School with an additional degree in business and is the creator of Black Culinarian. Chizanga’s company provides cooking lessons, catering for intimate gatherings, and a blog platform to showcase the unheard voices and talent ofpeople of color in the food industry.

9. Saru Jayaraman.

Saru Jayarama is the co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Center United and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at University ofCalifornia, Berkeley. In 2015, she won the James Beard Leadership Award for her work in fighting worker inequality in the restaurant industry.

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