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San Diego's Female Chefs Celebrate Their Kitchen Leadership

Chef Isabel Cruz (left), Tracy Borkum (center) and chef Kelli Crosson (right) in undated photos.
Chef Isabel Cruz (left), Tracy Borkum (center) and chef Kelli Crosson (right) in undated photos.
San Diego's Female Chefs Celebrate Their Kitchen Leadership
San Diego's Female Chefs Celebrate Their Kitchen Leadership GUESTS: Kelli Crosson, chef de cuisine, A.R. Valentien Isabel Cruz, chef/owner, The Coffee Cup and Isabel’s Cantina Tracy Borkum, founder, Urban Kitchen Group

This is KPBS Midday Edition I am Maureen Cavanaugh women have been cooking and preparing meals for as long as civilization has existed and sometimes it heals longer. Being read -- respected as an actual chef and being paid for your work in the kitchen is a rather recent trust. Email chefs are being more respected in the culinary world. Celebration of international women's day a store in Delmar presents festival this sender that features 16 prominent women chefs and beverage makers in San Diego. Joining me are Kelly from AR Ballantine -- welcome. Thank you. Isabel crews from the coffee cup and Isabel's Cantina. And Tracy from the Cucina in Delmar. Tracy when you say the word chef do you think people still usually think of a man? Unfortunately I think most times they deer but I think especially in our environment in San Diego it is becoming more and more welcome to recognize women in the kitchen. We are very excited to see that evolution come to fruition. Kelly. Been as well? Yes it happens more often than not Isabel have you seen industry change over the years to make the idea of a female chef more common? It is more common in San Diego. When I started a long time ago there was not a whole lot of women in the kitchen. It is so nice male to see lots of young women coming up in the ring and running lots of the best kitchens in San Diego. I understand it was not long ago you would find yourself is one of the only women chefs at culinary events. Yes years ago there was 30 chefs at an event two of them would be female. It was hard. It was really hard. Why was it hard? Also because I was a small business on a and it would be like chefs from one of that particular it was chefs from the -- across the United States like the executive chef from the Bellagio or the Beverly Hilton and then there was me and they would pull up with some nice and I would pull up with a cooler. So it was hard. And a full creature. It was me and maybe I would have another go with me. Said Tracy experiences like that. Is that kind of what led you to found this event several years ago? Absolutely. I definitely want to give kudos to Isabel and Karen who is another one of the chefs joining us. They are sort of part of the original sisterhood of San Diego and they have really paved the way. I think we took this great opportunity and celebration of women and are trying to define it as an industry of gratitude toward the women that we are surrounded with and obviously we have expanded this to our beverage makers from bring in women and more than, honey and central California as well. What made you want to become a chefs Kelly? There's not a specific thing but I know my grandmother tells me when I was four if you asked me what I was going to be I was going to be a chef. That was it. It took me maybe 20 more years to realize that and bring it into fruition. I understand that when you were training to be a chef a lot of your fellow students were women. It is interesting because probably two thirds of the people in my smaller class were females. I feel like I have been fortunate enough to have people like Isabel paved the way for me. From what I hear working in professional kitchens can be pretty brutal with a lot of pressure. Do you have to be tough to get through that? It is also very physical. You are dealing with a lot of heat. Knives and heavy things. You are lugging around like big buckets of things so you have to be tough and you have to be able to take a lot of criticism also which is hard. I heard two really young girls in my kitchen one was just out of culinary school and one had been in the kitchen maybe a couple years and the older one was telling her whatever you do do not let them see you cry. It is a tough business. How you run your kitchen? I haven't really just a lot of really good people. My kitchen has always been crazy and a lot of that is because I do a big breakfast and people want the food fast so you have to be fast and you have to be -- you have to be also -- people coming to breakfast when they are hung over from the night This nutty. I think when I became the chefs a few years ago I was maybe a little bit more aggressive than I am now trying to figure out the way that I actually want to be when I become the great chef. I was going to chime in here a little bit. I think sometimes we underestimate our ability. I feel like when I am mentoring especially -- it is always move the femininity behind your advantage. We are great multitaskers emotionally I think we are understanding people and temperaments and where they are and if you walk into your kitchen especially there are always more men than women in the kitchen but you set your standard and your Mike will do fine. Before we go I will have to ask you both let me start with you Kelly. Just give us an idea to what our appetites of the kinds of dishes you will be preparing on Sunday. I will be doing a savory green garlic blonde highlighting spring essentially. We had a really rainy winter we are ready for some fresh double solid. I am going to be doing a green corn tostada and have some grilled shrimp and cucumber and cherry tomatoes and a cilantro lime sauce with the chili oil. It will be really rush to let me tell everybody the event will take place Sunday in Delmar. I've been speaking with Kelly Isabel and Tracy and I want to thank you all and have a wonderful time. Thank you. Be sure to watch KPBS evening additional 5:00 and 6:30 tonight on KPBS television. Join us again for KPBS midday edition tomorrow at noon. If you ever miss a show you can check out the podcast at I am Maureen Cavanaugh thank you for listening.

Women have been cooking and preparing meals for millennia, but female chefs are still a significant minority in U.S. restaurants.

The latest Department of Labor data, from 2012, shows that just over 20 percent of chefs are women.

Kelli Crosson, chef de cuisine at A. R. Valentien, said her diners often assume the chef preparing their meals is a man.


"There are many times that my servers come back to the kitchen and say, 'Oh they said please thank the chef for the wonderful meal he made for me,'" she said. "That happens more often than not."

But gender diversity in the country's kitchens is improving. Crosson is one of eight female chefs participating in Festa Della Donna on Sunday, a celebration of International Women's Day at CUCINA enoteca Del Mar.

Isabel's Cantina chef and owner Isabel Cruz, another participant, remembers being one of as few as two women at some industry events several years ago. Now she says there are so many female chefs and beverage makers in San Diego, they're able to put together the annual Festa Della Donna themselves.

CUCINA enoteca owner Tracy Borkum, Crosson and Cruz join KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday to share their experiences leading San Diego kitchens.