It's an aging concept, that of the male-only executive in the kitchen. Women, who have long been confined to pastry or serving in restaurants now find themselves dominating in the food and beverage sectors throughout the world. Whether they're rockstar bartenders or beverage directors, or conceptual sue chefs, or kitchen executives, these sectors have been some of the fastest to knock down the gender barriers that have plagued the working world for centuries.
In Michelin ratings, women still have a ways to go, with only about 8% of the starred restaurants in NYC run by female chefs, something the guide's director said they “can't do anything about" when questioned on the gender discrepancies.
Michelins aside however, it's the sushi industry that is the focal point here, which, food-critics Zagat have described as “woefully behind in terms of gender equality." At 24, Oona Tempest is one of the youngest female sushi chefs on the scene in New York, and has taken the industry's engendered history to task with her quick rise to prominence in the Edomae sushi sphere.
“I had no idea I was going to be a chef," laughs Tempest, who was an aspiring marine biologist before taking an art degree in New York. Given her proclivity for the creative, and her waitressing job at the time in Tanoshi Sushi, it became inevitable that the two would converge when one day, the head chef asked her if she would like to hold a knife. “I started as a waitress," begins Tempest. “I learned about the differences in the fish, their history. what their seasons are so I could explain to customers the technical facts. Then my master invited me one night to try holding a knife, and it just snowballed from there."
The fast-pace movement of NYC's restaurant scene lends itself to a faster training progress than the traditions practiced in sushi's home country. “In Japan an apprentice would start as a host or a dishwasher," says Tempest. “Traditionally you would start cleaning the floor, and then washing the rice for a year or two, then cleaning or gutting the fish for a year or two, and the minimum (for the training) would be ten years." For Tempest, the expedited process came by virtue of a few factors, the most important being work ethic. Under the supervision of her master, she worked almost 7 days a week, focusing only on one skill at a time. “So it looks like I got where I am really fast but really it was just because of the level of intensity I was trained at," she comments.
“And of course this is ignoring the fact that first of all, you would not be female," Tempest states. Given the patriarchal nature of Japan's culture, this mentality has seeped into sushi restaurants throughout the world. Even with asian fusions such as fan-favorite Nobu, a female chef behind the sushi counter is a rarity, if not a non-entity.
It only takes one, of course.
Tempest's quick rise through the ranks at Tanoshi gave her a resounding name for herself when she looked to make the next step in her career. Her most recent posting is at David Bouhadana's Sushi By Bou, of which, she is Sushi By Bae(and yes, we absolutely adore the name).
“Traditionally you would start cleaning the floor, and then washing the rice for a year or two, then cleaning or gutting the fish for a year or two, and the minimum (for the training) would be ten years. And of course this is ignoring the fact that first of all, you would not be female."
You'll find Tempest's sushi counter nestled away in the hip Jue Lan Club where you will sit down at her counter and watched her transform what looks like regular fish into a culinary experience that is sure to blow you away.
Tempest's 90-minute Omakase is similar to a restaurant tasting menu, only a little more intimate. Omakase basically means “I trust you" in Japanese, whereby you give all inhibition over and allow the chef to do the choosing for you. In the last few years, Omakase and particularly Tempest's style of traditional serving, Edomae, has been available in very few restaurants in the city, a trend which appears to be turning around.
“New York City is going through quite a sushi renaissance," says Tempest. “Just this past summer alone, 10 new high-end Omakase restaurants opened up."
The renaissance has begotten a rebirth of old style sushi - very simple, clean, no extra ingredients and very traditional - Edomae, which is an old form of sushi, is what sushi trends are now reverting to. To say you're Edomae technically means you're using fish from only the Tokyo region, but now it intimates that you're using this old, simple style. All of Tempest's fish comes from the biggest fish market in the region, Tsukiji, which is easily imported into New York because of great trading lines between the two cities, but also makes for a different day, everyday. Tempest relies on her imagination for each tasting menu, given the unpredictability of the fish coming in from abroad.
Given the spotlight that is now on the culinary arts to embrace the times, we're confident Oona will soon be working with a team of female sushi chefs. But for now, we will continue to watch in awe as she keeps us drooling over her beautiful and delectable fish artistry.
We're here. We're queer. Now that it's pride month, it feels like every store and corporation is flooding us with their best rainbow merchandise, capitalizing on a $917 billion dollar consumer market.
The rainbow flags are out. The mannequins are sporting pride tees. And corporate newsletters are full of interviews showcasing all their queer employees ("Look, we have a gay person here! We GET you!").
To me, this is blatant evidence that the future is queer.
These corporations follow the money, and with 20% of millennials and 31% of Gen Z openly identifying as queer, these businesses have to capitalize on the growing purchasing power of LGBTQIA+ consumers. With a recorded market size of $917 billion dollars in 2016, and a growing interest in socially conscious brands among young consumers, this is clearly a market opportunity that corporations cannot afford to ignore.
However, I'm always surprised by how little attention investors and the entrepreneurial community devotes to this undeniable trend, despite being constantly inundated with overwhelming statistics proving the importance of diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Only 2.2% of venture capital funding went to women in 2018, less than .1% of funding has been allocated to black women since 2009, and only about 1% of venture-backed companies have a black founder or Latinx founder. These statistics are over-quoted but underacted upon.
This gender and diversity inequality significantly hinders economic growth, since 85% of all consumer purchases are controlled by women, and startups with higher ethnic diversity tend to produce financial returns above their industry norm.
The data is clearly leading to one direction: investing in women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, veterans, immigrants, and other minority groups in entrepreneurship leads to higher revenue and better business results.
As data-driven and forward-thinking as this industry claims to be, we haven't caught up to the queer founders, particularly queer women, who are rethinking the future. These founders understand and speak to a generation of increasing numbers of LGBTQIA+ people whose market share will only continue to grow exponentially. VCs and investors are already behind the curve.
SoGal Foundation, a non-profit on a mission to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship, is helping bridge this divide between queer women founders and investors with the launch of applications for the second annual Global Pitch Competition for diverse entrepreneurs. Hosted in 25+ cities across five continents, and culminating in a final global pitch competition and 3-day immersive educational bootcamp in Silicon Valley, this is the first and only globally-focused pitch opportunity for diverse entrepreneurs.
Startups that are pre-Series A (raised less than $3M) with at least one woman or diverse founder, apply here to pitch! The top teams selected from each regional round will join SoGal's final global pitch competition and bootcamp in Silicon Valley for guaranteed face time with dozens of top Silicon Valley investors, curated educational programming, unparalleled 1:1 mentorship, press exposure, and a chance to win investment capital.
Women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ founders: what's the best way to kick off pride? Apply to pitch!
Regional pitch rounds will be held August-November 2019; final pitch competition in Silicon Valley in February 2020. Details and additional cities to be announced.
SoGal Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and the largest global platform for diverse founders and funders in 40+ chapters across 5 continents; our mission is to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship. SoGal Foundation's global startup competition represents the first and largest opportunity for women and diverse entrepreneurs and investors to connect worldwide. Join the SoGal community & follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.