Oklahoma Citys food scene has evolved rapidly over the last decade. Its not just the food thats improving; the industry is also becoming a much friendlier place for women.
Chef Kathryn Mathis, co-owner of Oklahoma City eateries Back Door Barbecue, Big Truck Tacos and Pizzeria Gusto, said she experienced sexism in the kitchen when she first moved to Austin, Texas.
I didnt last very long there, she said. It was the only job I ever no-showed for.
But the lessons she learned stuck with her. She passes them on to new managers at her restaurants.
Remember all those good things the chef or manager you love did, and remember all the bad things the manager or chef did that you hated and try not to be that, Mathis said. Be the good, but dont forget the bad.
A kitchen requires thick skin, but she said theres a difference between playful banter and crossing a line.
Stella Modern Italian Cuisine executive chef Melissa Aust said thats the ideal but not the reality in some kitchens. While she hasnt dealt with sexism while working in Oklahoma City restaurants, she did while working in Marthas Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Everybody had their niche, she said. The guys were pretty cocky. They gave me shit, but I have a little thicker skin than most.
Its hard coming up in an established food city, but she arrived here just as the scene was starting to pop. That put a hard reset on gender inequality in the kitchen and allowed the strongest cooks to come to the fore.
She said she and Stella owner Lori Burson have a business relationship based on open communication and honesty.
We just have a really good dynamic together, Aust said. Well call each other out. Today, were work partners; tonight, were friends.
Friendship is why Pie Junkie owners Darcy Schein and Leslie Coale-Mossman began working together.
Darcy and I met when our daughters were in Mothers Day Out, Coale-Mossman said. We started hanging out and cooking together.
After starting a catering kitchen inside St. Lukes Episcopal Church, the women were approached by Shannon Roper from S&Bs Burger Joint about making a pie for the restaurant. It became so popular, they were soon making several pies a week for S&Bs and began looking their own storefront.
They opened their shop, 1711 NW 16th St., about four years ago. But that put a different challenge in their path.
Trying to find a balance between being a wife, a mother and a business owner is really challenging for us, Coale-Mossman said. When youre at the shop and miss things the kids are doing, you feel guilty. At home, your thoughts are whats going on at the business.
Finding that balance is difficult, and shes not sure theyve figured it out yet.
Its a daily struggle, partially because were really hands-on in our business, Coale-Mossman said. We have our hands dirty every day. Thats why weve had some success. We didnt start something, mic-drop and walk off.
While its difficult being away from their kids, its also providing them an opportunity to teach them.
I want them to see that they can be successful. What that requires is hard work. Things arent handed to you, Coale-Mossman said. I hope Im modeling that for my girls.
Shes proud to count herself among women contributing to the community.
Its not a gender thing. Theyre working hard and killing it right now, she said.
The Pritchard Wine Bar, 1749 NW 16th St., where general manager Mindy Magers and executive chef Shelby Seig are creating one of Oklahoma Citys best dining experiences, is a bastion of fine wine and cuisine. They are also trying to create one of the best working environments for their staff.
Two-thirds of our ownership group is female. Our [general manager] is female. Our executive chef is female, Magers said. Its not positive because its female. Its positive because people who come here know what theyre getting into. If theyre not comfortable working for women, they wont come here.
Its not that way everywhere, she said. While working at a fine wine and liquor store in Dallas, Magers said the general manager was fired when it came out he had hidden cameras in her office (which was also the female employees changing room). She was promoted to his job but had to keep doing her old job as operations manager, too all without a raise.
Seig began as a pastry chef, a role that she said tends to be more female-oriented. But on the savory side of the industry, it can be more of a boys club.
Theres an attitude of, Youre a girl. Get out of here, she said.
That means female chefs have to work harder to gain the same respect as their male peers. Its unfair, but Seig finds the challenge pushes her to be better.
You have to be on-point all the time, she said.
Its an unfair standard, but one she works to counteract by giving young women in the industry a chance to learn and prove themselves.
You bring other strong females in, but its really about who is best for the job, Seig said. If it werent for women encouraging each other and bringing each other up, I wouldnt be in my position.
No one gets a free pass because theyre female, nor is she harder on male employees.
But if you dont give them the opportunity, they cant prove themselves, she said.
One employee she hired while working at Boulevard Steakhouse is Chelsea Berry, now a pastry chef at En Croûte, 6460 Avondale Drive.
I have to give it up to Shelby, Berry said. She gave me the opportunity. She gave me responsibility.
That open door led her to En Croûte with managing partner and cheesemonger Crosby Dyke.
When I started in culinary school, I was told that I should go into pastry because I would never make it as a line cook, Berry said. Women are automatically expected to be the baker and put into a dessert role.
Dyke said her path has been an easier one because En Croûte is her first restaurant job.
I did six years in the oil and gas industry, she said. Definitely there, its a mans world.
Print headline: Womens place? Wherever they choose. A new generation of female restaurant owners, managers and chefs build culinary success in Oklahoma City.