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A Restaurant Conference Focusing on Women in the Industry Is Coming to Fort Lauderdale

If you've ever wondered why the hospitality industry is dominated by male executive chefs and restaurateurs — when it's traditionally women who head up home kitchens — you might want to check out the inaugural Restaurant Reset Conference. Taking place in Fort Lauderdale from April 24-26 at the Conrad Fort Lauderdale Hotel, the conference is run by the nonprofit organization Mentorship, Advocacy, Pandemic Relief, and the Power of Women (MAPP).

MAPP was founded by award-winning filmmaker Joanna James, known for the documentary A Fine Line, which features chefs Dominique Crenn, Barbara Lynch, and Cat Cora. In it, James explores that crucial question: Why do women make up less than 7 percent of head chefs and restaurant owners in the industry?

James says it boils down to access, pure and simple.

"Access means being given the right introductions. It means having these introductions lead to media exposure, ownership, and financial independence. It means always being in the right place at the right time," she says.

It also means being sought out for opportunities — whether they're food shows, festivals, or executive chef positions — from all corners of the nation. The members of MAPP and the speakers at the conference represent every state and identity, from Crystal Wahpepah, a member of Kickapoo Nation (Oklahoma) and the first Native woman to compete on Food Network's Chopped, to Brazilian-born Paula DaSilva, Hell's Kitchen 2009 runner-up and executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale.

"There does need to be a reset in this country," James says. "We've seen that there's room for more authentic flavors and representation in hospitality by women, women of color, and Indigenous women. They sacrifice a lot to get where they are. But not all people in marginalized communities have public relations and marketing personnel. So they're not getting the awards and recognition they deserve."

To that end, the three-day event is the only one of its kind devoted to the promotion of women and women of color as chefs, restaurateurs, and food-and-beverage professionals. Panels, workshops, and more will focus on providing that access and educating the audience. Equity, diversity, empowerment, growth, and scale are the subjects on which James Beard Award-nominated chefs Ellen Yin, Ji Hye Kim, Reem Assil, Katie Button, and Valerie Chang will speak.

With an enthusiastic and inclusive cast, the conference aims to inspire and energize. Networking is key. So is providing opportunities.

"The pandemic brought face front what's been happening the past five to ten years," James says. "The industry is lacking the mindset to work together instead of solo. Women never have a seat at the table to talk policy. It's always fluff and tokens."

Instead, she says, women need partnerships. They need conversations. They need invitations. It's no longer a matter of a director unable to find enough talented women to balance a roster for food festivals or a hiring manager unable to hire a diverse crew for kitchens. "They're already there," James maintains. "It's time to show the different faces that have been sorely missed. It takes intention. We welcome the chance to do it together."

MAPP Restaurant Reset Conference. Sunday, April 24 through Tuesday, April 26, at Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel, 551 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; mappimpact.org. Tickets cost $225 to $645. A livestream of the conference is available for $25.