13 Badass Women to Know in the NYC Dining Scene

Making their way on their own terms
March 6, 2017
by Priya Krishna

The food world is filled with talented women — but more often than not, they get passed over for awards and media coverage in favor of their male counterparts. Or if they are discussed, it’s as if they are in a class entirely separate — or lower — than that of men. Just look at the World's Best Female Chef award (wherein the chef's establishment usually never makes it on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list), or the much-discussed New York Times profile of chef Dominique Crenn, in which the author quotes San Francisco Chronicle critic Michael Bauer complimenting the chef by saying, “She cooks the way men are cooking.” This week, in honor of International Women's Day (March 8) we’re highlighting just a few of the kick-ass young women owning the New York food industry, and doing it all on their own terms.  

Clare de Boer, Jess Shadbolt and Annie Shi, chefs-owners: King
From the day it opened, King has managed to captivate New York diners (certainly not an easy feat) with its charming space and rotating, European-inspired menu. The folks behind the restaurant, Clare de Boer, Jess Shadbolt and Annie Shi, came to New York by way of London, where de Boer and Shadbolt were working at the pioneering River Café. After nearly running out of money and having to change venues last minute due to a lease falling through, the three opened the restaurant to immediate rave reviews. And in spite of all the accolades, you won't find this group out and about at food festivals self-promoting and basking in media attention; the trio is in the kitchen every single night, doing what they do best — making diners feel as though they've been invited into someone's home. 

Samantha Safer, partner, and Claire Welle, partner-chef: Otway
In 2015, Samantha Safer and Claire Welle struck restaurant gold — they opened Tilda All Day in Clinton Hill, whose breezy vibes and chocolate-olive cookies made it one of Brooklyn’s most acclaimed cafes. But after only a year, the restaurant was forced to close, due to a messy ownership battle between Safer and the place’s third owner. With their legal troubles behind them, Safer and Welle just reopened the space as Otway, with an all-female team serving house-butchered meat along with the pastries that made the original famous. The space is only a month old, but it’s already on its way to becoming a neighborhood mainstay. Very appropriately, the word “Otway” means “successful in battle” in German — a testament to Safer and Welle’s commitment to their beloved spot. 

Kristen Tomlan, founder and CEO: 
You may have noticed the miles-long line snaking around Third Street in Greenwich Village, teeming with dessert lovers eager to try the latest craze — the edible cookie dough from DŌ. The woman behind the hysteria is Kristen Tomlan, a former corporate designer who has found a way to capitalize on people’s collective love for raw cookie dough in a major way. Her breakthrough came when she developed a method for making the eggs and flour in cookie dough safe to eat, while still capturing the addictive flavor that people love (the secret is pasteurized eggs). A first, the business was online-only; but after she opened her brick-and-mortar in Manhattan, it was clear from the crowds that Tomlan had hit on something big. And though New Yorkers famously tend to get bored with food fads pretty quickly, the lines at DŌ are showing no signs of letting up. 

Umber Ahmad, chef-owner: Mah-Ze-Dahr 
Even before launching Mah-Ze-Dahr, Umber Ahmad was a force to be reckoned with, a successful investment banker and then co-founder of Specialized Capital Management, a consultancy that aids restaurants and other businesses looking to open up in the Middle East. It was through her consulting work that she met celebrated chef Tom Colicchio — she baked for him (it was a hobby at the time), and he eventually convinced her that she needed to open up her own business, even offering to partner with and mentor her. Mah-Ze-Dahr became a successful wholesale bakery, serving simple, high-quality pastries like brioche donuts and salted caramel cashew tarts, and picking up high-profile clients like Jet Blue along the way. Just a little while ago, Ahmad opened up a storefront in the West Village. And already, Ahmad is eyeing expansions across the country and eventually around the world. And, as if she couldn’t be any more accomplished, she still runs her consulting biz on the side, speaks five languages and — believe it or not — is a successful voiceover actress. 

Melissa Rodriguez, executive chef: Del Posto
For years, Del Posto has reigned as New York’s premier destination for Italian fine dining. So when renowned executive chef Mark Ladner stepped down a few months ago to start his own business, his only choice to fill his enormous shoes was Melissa Rodriguez, who, at the time, was the restaurant's chef de cuisine. She is now the first and only woman to run a New York Times four-star kitchen, and she has the chops to back up her new role, having worked at Del Posto for six years, and also served as the sous-chef at yet another citywide institution, Daniel. As someone who has long been known by her colleagues for her team mindset and unmatched work ethic, there's no doubt that Del Posto's standing is in exceptionally safe hands. 

Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin, founders: Ovenly
It’s going to be a busy two years for Agatha Kulaga and Erin Patinkin, the founders of the cult Greenpoint bakery, Ovenly. They started their business over six years ago, placing their salted peanut butter cookies and burnt sugar espresso shortbread in over 150 cafes and hotels in New York, along with their own. This year, they’re switching gears from the wholesale business — opening a test kitchen in Greenpoint, a location in Park Slope and eventually shops all along the East Coast — in the hopes of being able to develop new, signature sweets and become a nationally recognized name in pastry (something that’s tough to do in the wholesale business, when pastries aren’t really branded). Kulaga and Patinkin have even gotten into the delivery game — you can now order Ovenly treats from the comfort of your own home on the popular service, Caviar. 

Victoria Blamey, executive chef: Chumley’s
How do you reinvent an iconic bar, while still paying homage to its past? Hire Victoria Blamey. When restaurateur Alessandro Borgognone (who is also responsible for Sushi Nakazawa) took over Chumley’s, a 94-year-old restaurant with former regulars like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, he turned to Blamey, a fine-dining chef with a creative edge, who has worked at places like Atera and Upland. The Chumley’s revival was one of the biggest openings of 2016, with Blamey’s bone marrow–laced burger and cognac fried chicken grabbing headlines. Her menu of modernized classics has turned the historic speakeasy into one of New York’s coolest dining destinations.

Jocelyn Guest and Erika Nakamura, chefs-owners: White Gold Butchers
For a while, Jocelyn Guest and Erika Nakamura were the behind-the-scenes forces in April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman’s restaurant empire, crafting the hospitality group’s sustainable, whole animal butchery program. Now, they’re at the forefront, as both the chefs and part-owners of Bloomfield and Friedman’s latest venture, White Gold Butchers, on the Upper West Side. The spot is a restaurant specializing in nose-to-tail fare, and it’s also a butcher shop, specifically intended to help educate the community about meat (Guest and Nakamura host regular butchering classes and hand out recipe cards). White Gold provides the burger blends for ­the other restaurants in the family, The Spotted Pig, The Breslin and Salvation Burger, which means Guest and Nakamura are responsible for one of the most essential components of the Bloomfield dining experience. If the recent, glowing New York Times review of White Gold is any indication, the two young butchers are certainly up for any challenge.  

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