Best D.C. chef: It’s ‘challenging’ supervising all men

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It’s challenging being the lone girl at the top of the food chain, specifically in all-male kitchens.

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But powerhouse chef and restaurateur Amy Brandwein – owner of the favorite Italian eatery and industry Centrolina in downtown Washington – has learned to deal with it.

“If you’re the only girl in a home, and you’re the sous chef, and you’re supervising a group of male chefs, some of them are supportive, plus some of them are like, ‘I’m not down with this,’” Brandwein told POLITICO’s Anna Palmer on the latest bout of the “Women Guideline” podcast.

As the sous chef, Brandwein added that it “can be very hard, because after that at that time, you’re actually supervising all guys, and that is actually challenging.”

The chef, who came up through the Washington food picture in Roberto Donna’s Galileo restaurant, said that in those male-dominated kitchens, being “persuasive” was a far more effective control technique than employing a heavy hand.

“What I found was a female cannot bark orders at a good team of male cooks,” Brandwein recounted. “It’s not going to be successful, because they’re going to make an effort to buck you. So, I used kind of softer expertise, and especially trying to get collaboration and consensus.”

Now, Brandwein seldom faces that problem in her private restaurant: Her senior staff in Centrolina, which she opened to many fanfare in 2015, is definitely all women.

The chef denied that was by design, but she acknowledged that her entrepreneurial venture was staffed so that “all women jumped off the bridge with me.”

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“They were really excited about the idea of an effective woman-owned business, a chef in the middle of downtown D.C.,” Brandwein said.

In this far-ranging “Women Rule” conversation, Brandwein also discussed operating in a politically polarized Washington – and the “double-edged” challenges of airing her political views as an area business owner.

“I want everybody to feel comfortable taking in at Centrolina, because really, it’s really about foodstuff,” she said. “I’m not there to possess a political cafe. But, concurrently, I can’t stifle my very own voice and not participate in the lifestyle in the manner that I’d like because I happen to be the owner of Centrolina.”

But Brandwein also credits politics with at least one useful element: the ability to raise money on her behalf new enterprise.

“One of the challenges for women entrepreneurs and women chefs or business owners is trying to get your own network to improve the administrative centre,” she recounted. “So, I don’t possess, like, an old boys’ network that was aiding me – I got, like, a new girls’ network that was aiding me.”

A good former staffer at EMILY’s List, Brandwein said she considered her network of political close friends to find out more about fundraising.

“The political action committee I worked for, EMILY’s List, obviously knows a few things about fundraising,” she said. “Therefore my pal Mary Jane Volk, she helped me kind of – she’s a fundraiser and she kind of helped me placed on a fundraising hat and coach me how exactly to do the talk to, and inform you and succinct. And that really was such a learning method for me.”

Read below for considerably more highlights of the interview:

2:27 After an illustrious career at restaurants around Washington, Brandwein decided to strike from her private because she felt that she couldn’t fulfill her eyesight for food under someone else’s direction.

“I like to work with just very fresh goods and employ, like, an Italian sensibility and make an effort to enhance it, and also have everything kind of distilled into distinct elements,” she said. “And I simply couldn’t see myself having the capacity to do that in another person’s cafe.”

4:09 Brandwein discusses the “daunting” process of raising capital on her behalf new business and details how it took her four years from the writing of her business intend to execution.

“I don’t have a vintage boys’ network helping me,” she said. “I got a new girls’ network that was aiding me.”

Later, Brandwein enters the “nitty gritty of fundraising” – what she calls the “unglamorous part of chef-ing.”

8:14 Brandwein recounts how she worked her way up through a male-dominated home, from pastry make to sous chef.

11:11 Is sexual harassment and assault pervasive in the cafe industry? Brandwein answers with an emphatic yes.

But “getting that job path” is perhaps the bigger challenge, Brandwein says.

16:00 The chef discusses staffing her senior positions in your kitchen with women.

“I was a good first-time entrepreneur, and so the women that are here with me, they were very considering the project.”

17:30 Brandwein discusses how she moved out from under chef Roberto Donna’s shadow.

“It can be hard for just about any person to forge their own identity from one of those types of chefs, those chef-gods,” she recalled. “But as a female, it was kind of like people would claim I was his sidekick and that kind of element, and I’m like – wow! I’m not necessarily his sidekick, I’m his chef, which is a really big responsibility for just about any chef. It’s a huge job.”

19:00 Brandwein discusses her partnership and investment in D.C. Urban Greens, a business with two urban farms in the District that supply make to underserved communities. Centrolina may be the group’s only for-profit buyer.

“It simply tells a story that needs to be told about usage of food, about chefs, about Washington, D.C., and it’s just been such an amazing thing.”

21:00 Brandwein clarifies how she came up with the concept for Centrolina’s restaurant-market place combination.

“When I was in the middle of the Galileo home and we were getting all these amazing produce dropped off every week, and I thought, you understand, chefs really need to have wonderful product to be able to create wonderful foodstuff,” she said. “But I usually felt like the real pride is in the merchandise, definitely not the chef, who’s placing lemon vinaigrette on these amazing greens – it’s the greens.”

23:00 Brandwein discusses her own political past and what she’s hoping to do now to remain more involved in localized politics and women’s rights.

“When it appeared as if this [Women’s] march really was going to get something organized and powerful, it just – it had been like a good no-brainer for me” to become involved, she said. “After all, it’s definitely not a Republican/Democrat issue if you ask me; it’s a women’s concern.”

25:00 Brandwein discusses the state of the meals scene around Washington.

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