Q: How did you get started in the food business?
Kathy: I moved out when I was 14 years old and had to get a job. My first job was in a sewing factory, where I quickly learned that I don’t like to sew. I knew that I liked to cook and was a pretty good cook, taught by my mother and grandmother, so I decided to apply for a job to cook at a convent. I became the one and only cook for 12 nuns and was responsible for making their dinner five nights a week. At the time the only way to get recipes was to go to the library and copy them from early cookbooks like Betty Crocker, which I did. One of their favorites was homemade crepes. I also ate with them, and probably was a great source of entertainment for the five years I worked there. Not only did I finish high school, but began attending culinary school as it was clear to me that I had found a passion. It was a wonderful experience.
Q: You’re known as a frontrunner woman chef – paving the way for the emergence of other women chefs on a national level. What challenges did you face entering an all-male industry (at the time)?
Kathy: As one of the first, youngest woman executive chefs during the 1980’s, I was faced with a variety of challenges, from how to be successful during an interview to workplace attire to combating physical abuse in the kitchen. From the beginning when I was instructed (wrongly) to wear a gray suit to an interview, I realized that the rules of this game were much different than most workplaces. When my boss at my first job at the Sheridan asked me to wear a dress in the pantry to cook in (I was the only woman in the kitchen), I refused.
I took guidance from a colleague early on that interviewed in army fatigues and got the job that the name of the game was rough and tumble. There were serious barriers, and niceties were not the way to break them down. I’d work 20-hour days, come in sick and do pretty much anything (non-sexist) to work the ‘hot side’ of the kitchen. At that time, women were always in the pantry or on the ‘cold side.’ If a co-worker slammed the freezer door on my back, or threw something in hot oil to have it splatter my skin, it became the fuel – to work harder and harder. In the end it was recognized and I became the boss to many of these individuals that fought to keep me out of the kitchen.
Q: What tips would you give other women in the same situation?
- Persevere; never give up.
- Find someone who believes in you and accept their help in your advancement.
- Change can be good; know that if you’re in a dead end job, it’s time to start over.
For other entrepreneurs, I’d add that it is incredibly important to be flexible with your business. Times change, industries change; the key is to be able to adapt.
Q: You wear a lot of hats today as an entrepreneur, chef, food writer, author, wife (of 26-years), and more; how do you keep a balance?
Kathy: I multi-task, I keep to-do lists, I ensure my team keeps to-do lists and we sync them, I’m highly organized, and I’ve surrounded myself by people that simply get the job done.
Q: What’s your favorite part of your job today?
Kathy: Creating and innovating is my passion. I also love figuring out how things work (analyzing them). I’m a creative but also a numbers/operations person.
Q: As a foodie, you also have the inside track on all the newest places to eat. What’s your current favorite?
Kathy: It’s always an incredibly difficult choice because during the past few years, the Seattle area has spawned a lot of great new entrepreneur restaurants. If I had to choose, I’d pick Steelhead Diner today.