I have met many amazing people, but there is a special place in my heart for women who have forged their own paths and paved the way for other women after them. Kerry Diamond and Gail Simmons are two women who have done just that. Kerry had a successful career in fashion and beauty before switching gears into the food industry where she’s opened four restaurants and started a food media company, Cherry Bombe. Gail has been a judge on Top Chef since it began 14 seasons ago, and is the author of Talking with my Mouth Full.
Both Kerry and Gail are immensely supportive of women and I was lucky enough to catch them together at one of Kerry’s restaurants in Brooklyn, Nightingale Nine. So, today on Pardon My French, we’re chatting about how they each got into food, the changes they’ve witnessed in the industry, what excites them and about other women who are doing amazing things with food. I am super excited to share our conversation with you today and I hope you find them to be as down to earth and inspiring as I do!
On the perception that the food industry is a male dominated field…
KERRY: If you were to believe the perception that you get from the media, it’s that it’s mostly men.
GAIL: The industry, the food industry as a whole, encompasses a lot of things, but many of them are very recent. You have to remember the world of food, the sexiness and the glamour of the food industry is a very recent phenomenon. But it is still true that the restaurant industry, which is a subset of the food industry, and when I say restaurant industry, I mean back-of-house working in kitchens, is still under something like 15% women.
On how she got into food and why she ended up going to culinary school…
GAIL: I went to work for a city magazine and then a newspaper in Canada and ended up naturally following around the Food Editor begging them to let me write for them. Finally, an editor turned to me and said, “I am really glad you want to write about food, but here’s the thing, you don’t actually know anything about food!” If you want to write with authority and speak the language of what you’re writing about and be authentic and have integrity in your subject, you actually have to learn your subject. It occurred to me if I really want to know about food, I needed to learn how to cook.
On why people are so passionate about food these days…
KERRY: Food totally exploded as a “thing,” but everything has sort of exploded as a “thing” and we’re living in such interesting times right now. But food definitely.
GAIL: I think of food as the universal connector. We all do it, and need it to survive. No matter who you are or where you are, it brings people together.
KERRY: I do think people are expressing their creativity through food in a way that they never have before and I think a lot of that has to do with social media.
On the growth of food as a trend…
GAIL: Food touches on everything. It touches on sustainability, politics, culture, community, and tradition. There is something about the tangible quality of food that everyone understands in every language and every corner of the universe. And also it’s drool inducing and it’s beautiful.
KERRY: But it always was that. So why have things gotten bonkers crazy?
GAIL: Because you’re right, because everything is instantaneous.
KERRY: People line up for food! Last year I went to see David Chang speak at South by Southwest and there a few thousand people! It’s really incredible what it has become.
On whether they try to encourage a certain idea of food through their careers…
KERRY: We definitely do at Cherry Bombe. We have an agenda which is to promote women in food. Every time I think we’ve made progress, I see something out there that makes me feel like we haven’t. But I’m hopeful because I do think things have really changed in food. One of thing big things is that being the chef is not the be-all and end-all anymore. I think Cherry Bombe and others have shed light on the fact that there are other options in food.
GAIL: What I love so much about this moment is that my job and Kerry’s job didn’t exist when we set out to do them because didn’t necessarily even know where we were going. But these days there are so many ways to create your life in food.
KERRY: I meet so many recipe testers now and food photographers and stylists. They always existed but not at the level they do today. There are so many amazing young women out there who are really scrappy and pursuing those things as careers because they love it and piecing together freelance jobs and making a go of it and it’s pretty remarkable to see.
On veganism as a food trend…
KERRY: You know what’s exciting that goes along with all of this, is the vegan trend. It’s so interesting to see this taking hold in America today and again, it’s being driven young women. You’ve got Chloe Coscarelli, who has by CHLOE. I really think it’s the McDonald’s of tomorrow!
On feeling okay not knowing everything…
KERRY: I don’t pretend to know more than I really do and I’m not chef obsessed. You meet a lot of people who are, do you know this person or have you been to this place? I don’t get intimidated by what I don’t know. I’m fine saying I have no idea what restaurant you’re talking about, I don’t know that chef or that thing and I’ve never had a cronut or whatever!
On how her life has changed…
KERRY: I wish I could remember her name, I met a fantastic doctor last year at some avocado event, haha, that’s the kind of thing, from the Met Ball to an avocado event! I also have to go to an I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter event! I thought oh my gosh, what’s happened??
On receiving correspondence from fans…
KERRY: We just got a beautiful email from someone who really appreciated how diverse we try to be and that’s hard in this industry because it’s not super diverse. Whether it’s our radio show, the magazine or our conference, we really, really try. Not with gender, obviously!
On guilty pleasures…
KERRY: I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures. If you want to eat something, eat it. Just do it in moderation.
GAIL: I agree, we all, especially as women, have a lot of guilt about enough! About so many things in our lives. About the family we’re not spending enough time with, the work we’re not doing enough of, so I try to really lose the guilt. I’m not always good at it, but if there is one area I don’t want to feel guilty, it’s food. It’s too good and integral. There are certainly indulgences. If there is a salt and vinegar chip or a really spicy chicken wing around, I will not turn it down, but, I don’t feel guilty about it!
Against all Grain