Chef Catina Smith knows first-hand about the challenges Black chefs face, particularly Black female chefs. Affectionately known as “Chef Cat,” Smith studied culinary arts at the Baltimore International College before joining the Air Force Reserve. She found that her success was limited and started “Just Call Me Chef” as a resource for other Black chefs who not only are breaking the proverbial glass ceiling as women but also shattering stereotypes of what it means to be a Black chef.
What are the opportunities for women, women of color and Black women in particular in the culinary profession?
Black women have been killing it lately. It is our season. There are executive chefs, sous chefs, line cooks, restaurant owners and owners of food businesses. The numbers are climbing across the board. We can do it all, but it’s still a White man’s industry.
Why did you start “Just Call Me Chef,” and what is its mission?
Lack of representation. A desire to have a network of people that looked like me and share in the same experiences. A safe space. You don’t see Black women chefs that often, especially in leadership roles in restaurants or food businesses. JCMC is a growing alliance of Black women chefs, highlighting our skill and passion without differentiation — a sisterhood that focuses on networking, mentorship and professional growth.
What would you tell White chefs who claim there is racial diversity in their kitchens?
Are you allowing us to sit at the table and not eat? When you have chefs of color in the kitchen, are you making sure they are getting the training the other chefs are receiving? Are they in a place to grow? Often I find that Black chefs are met with resistance when it comes to rising up the ranks. We don’t want special treatment because we are just as capable. Simply afford chefs of color the same opportunities for learning and growth. Hold the same standard.
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