Chefs Jennifer Hill Booker, Deborah VanTrece, and mixologist Tiffanie Barriere will highlight the challenges women and minorities face in the kitchen during a series of three dinners — and the final one will take place at the James Beard House.
They’ll kick off the series, which they’re calling The Cast Iron Chronicles, tonight at VanTrece’s Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in Westside. Hill, a personal chef and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Paris, contacted VanTrece and Barriere over the summer after the three women were profiled for a story published on NBCBLK on why African American women are in large part missing from prestigious culinary festivals.
After speaking with VanTrece and Barriere regarding working together on the dinner series, Hill contacted the James Beard House about hosting the final dinner, and representatives there were game to host it.
The multi-course dinner from Hill and VanTrece on Monday will be presented alongside Barriere’s cocktails. The three women hope the events will instigate some long-overdue conversations.
“Because we’re women, we’re already not as welcome in the kitchen. I’ve been told I’m not strong enough to move a large stock pot from the stove to the counter,” Hill recalls being told once by a male colleague. “I’m six feet tall and pretty sturdy. I mean, come on now. Then you add color to this and I have to be like, ‘Hello, I’m a black woman and this what I cook.’”
VanTrece says soul food has for too long been equated with Southern food. She has spent the last 20 years of her culinary career exploring the word ‘soul’ and showcasing the food she grew up eating in Kansas City, Missouri through her successful catering business and now through Twisted Soul Cookhouse.
“Atlanta has been a mostly positive experience for me as a black female chef. There are more affluent African Americans here than in most places in the country,” VanTrece says.
But, while she and her restaurant have support from Atlanta’s black community, VanTrece says it’s a challenge getting other communities on board with the idea of a black woman chef. Meanwhile, Barriere finds the bar industry to be more accepting of people of color but not necessarily of women.
“Men have more of a problem with any woman being behind the bar or being successful in the industry than I find they do with my being black,” Barriere says. “Men still associate whiskey and scotch with males and fruity, sweet drinks with girls. I can’t stand that.”
She says she didn’t pay much attention to race in the bar industry until an article was published on Barriere and four other black women bartenders from the city by a local Atlanta writer on Tales of the Cocktail.
The article went viral.
“I couldn’t believe how shocked people were that there were black females making amazing cocktails. That was an eye-opener for me,” Barriere recalls. “Thankfully, Atlanta’s bar community is very accepting. We have great opportunities here as black female bartenders to really shine.”
Hill, VanTrece, and Barriere want people to come to the dinners with an open mind and to enjoy the experience which they say will include a few surprises. VanTrece says doing these dinners has inspired her to take the conversation one step further. She is hosting a series of pop-ups at Twisted Soul aimed at promoting young female chefs. She and her staff will act as their front and back of house, allowing the visiting chef to focus on their dishes.
Hill adds, “In doing the series, we wanted to showcase the pride we have in our cooking with the food service community, the female community, the black community, and the foodies of the world.”
‘Cocktails, Cuisine and Conversation’ is part one of The Cast Iron Chronicles dinner series. December 4, 6:30 p.m., Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours. Tickets are still available for purchase.