Over the course of eight weeks, The Women of Food visited seven cities, and invited thirteen chefs, collaborators, and purveyors to participate in this female-led movement. Together, they used the platform to talk about what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated industry; they gave speeches on building teams, creating safe spaces for creative work, and equipping the next generation with the tools and confidence to succeed.
And yet, the true connective force at each dinner was that each woman had a story to tell. These are the chefs who shaped The Women of Food, and these are their stories.
A celebratory buzz whizzes through Thip Khao, as guests mingle over traditional street snacks in honor of the Laotian New Year.
They pop street snacks, like tapioca-pork dumplings and lettuce wraps, into their mouths. Chef Patrice Cleary (Purple Patch) is preparing “lumpia”– fried Filipino spring rolls with beef, pork, carrots, and scallions. “It’s exciting to [see] another Southeast Asian female chef showcase her national food,” chef Seng Luangrath says, of Cleary, whom she’s invited to collaborate on the meal’s menu. The two met years ago cooking at a charity event benefitting ovarian cancer, and had been vying to cook together ever since.
Now reunited in the kitchen, they recreate the dishes they grew up eating in their home countries. For Luangrath, that means recipes passed down from her mother: steamed cod wrapped in banana leaves with spicy green curry paste and feathery dill and duck laab—a grilled and minced meat salad laced with toasted rice, dried chilies, and chopped mint. Diners recognize the dish from the many Thai restaurants in and around D.C, where it’s served as an appetizer, but it’s important for Luangrath to showcase how it’s eaten as a main course in Laos, with plenty of sticky rice. “Sticky rice is a staple that we eat along with all dishes. It’s [our] bread,” she says. Meanwhile, Cleary puts together Laing shrimp, a Filipino preparation of taro leaves stewed in coconut milk, onions, ginger, garlic, and mangoes.
A sense of thrill occupies the room as guests fill their stomachs with spice-laden fare. Luangrath comes out to tie string bracelets around each of their wrists in honor of baci, a Lao ritual meant to imbue longevity, success, and good fortune. When asked what she hopes guests take away from the night, Luangrath posits: “I hope diners engage in conversation over what Lao food is about, to experience something they might not have experienced before.” And tonight, the passion in which the two chefs exercise in bringing their cultures to their community is crystal-clear.