A New Direction for Women Chefs and Restaurateurs Conference

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[caption id="attachment_30435" align="alignleft" width="170"]Alicia Boada Alicia Boada[/caption] From coast to coast, more and more powerhouse women chefs are popping up in kitchens. Take Shannon Martincic, a Culinary Institute of America grad who—at only 23 years old—is helming the incredibly innovative kitchen at Seattle’s newly opened Bar Noroeste; or Mashama Bailey, who moved back home to Savannah, Georgia, from Queens, New York, to open The Grey, hailed as one of the best restaurants to open in 2014. It’s women like Martincic and Bailey who Women Chefs and Restaurateurs—the professional association for women from all walks of the food and beverage community—seeks to support. The woman behind all those women is Alicia Boada, WCR’s incoming president and conference chair. Based in Los Angeles, Boada works as a pastry chef with chocolatier Barry Callebaut by day and volunteers with WCR by night. When she learned she would chair the 23rd annual conference, happening April 17-18, 2016, she knew she wanted to plan something different. That started with the location: her home base. “L.A. is a wonderful food city, and has become very lovely in the last 10 years,” she says. “It’s also a powerhouse for women in food.” Besides the large pool of potential speakers and attendees, L.A. also lent itself to a new event format Boada had in mind. Typically, WCR’s conference is located in one hotel, and leaders utilize the on-site banquet rooms, ballrooms and kitchen facilities for demonstrations. The stale environment left Boada uninspired, so she changed it up. “I get very bored at trade shows going to the same building and not ever leaving,” she explains. “I wanted to bring the experience of all of L.A. to attendees.” To accomplish that, she set up a unique agenda incorporating high-profile venues around the area. They'll use InterContinental Los Angeles Century City at Beverly Hills for general sessions and speaking panels, as well as the hotel’s room block. Attendees will be bussed to Santa Monica’s Annenberg Community Beach House for the opening-night reception, where “everybody can put their feet in the sand” and enjoy live music, says Boada. The second day, shuttles will take guests to Culver City, where demonstrations will be held inside New School of Cooking. For breakouts, groups will utilize the school’s classrooms or walk across the street to Arcana: Books on the Arts. Other conference outings include grub crawls around L.A.’s various neighborhoods and a private chat with the Oscars’ Governors Ball chef Wolfgang Puck. The final—and perhaps most impressive—fete will be the upscale awards dinner at Paramount Pictures Studios, which will be set up like New York City. Twenty-eight chefs will prepare the food, designed as a roaming dinner setup with communal tables. “That is very L.A.,” says Boada of the arrangement. “It’s family-style, but you’re not stuck with the same eight people all night.” There will also be a heavy emphasis on desserts (not surprising due to Boada’s background, she admits), with 13 pastry chefs handling the final course. Throughout the event, 110 chefs will collaborate to prepare each meal for guests. Is the pressure turned up when cooking for cooks? Not as much as one would think. “Your peers are always the ones who are most supportive,” says Boada. From a conference perspective, “it’s not hard for us to plan because we let chefs have free rein over what they make.”