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I stumbled into it completely by accident. I had to gain 20 lbs for my first acting role. When I finished filming the movie, I went back to modeling and wanted to lose the weight in a healthy way. I have always loved to cook, and I just took the fat out of my cooking by making the recipes I loved most as healthy as possible. A small cookbook came out of that endeavor. I thought I did it just on a lark and never expected it to be much of anything. During my book tour, I appeared on the Food Network a couple of times and they offered me a development deal. The rest as they say, is history.
I’ve admired the work of the Foundation for years and I’m excited to be joining the ranks of previous guests of honor such as Julia Child and Martha Stewart. When I was in college and could occasionally splurge on a purchase, it was always a cookbook that won a James Beard Foundation “Media Award,” because I knew it was a sure mark that the book would be of quality. I have also had the pleasure of attending dinners at the Beard House over the years by chefs and it’s always been stellar. And this past year, I was a presenter at the Media Awards here in New York. I am also extremely aligned with the Foundation’s mission to make America’s food culture more delicious, diverse and sustainable for all. Among the programs that are leading the way to a better food system and diversity in the workplace include the JBF Impact Programs and Women Leadership Programs.
The culture of the restaurant industry has to change from the ground up. There are some great chefs and restaurateurs who are taking considerable steps to remedy the inequity in the professional food world and we must follow their lead. One example is Danny Meyer, who provides maternity leave. Another is Enrique Olivera, whose kitchen at Cosme is run almost completely by women. The life of a chef is not conducive to family obligations or maintaining regular business hours. It has traditionally been a very tightknit boys club. But with gender attitudes changing, and men helping out considerably more with domestic responsibilities at home, there are more women entering the field. That is not to say there aren’t some talented and super successful female chefs and restauranteurs- some examples are Barbara Lynch, Suzanne Goin, April Bloomfield, Nancy Silverton and Dominique Crenn, to name a few. But as an industry, we must support and encourage a new generation of female professionals. The #MeToo movement is a painful but necessary reckoning, and I hope it’s just the beginning.
It takes a lot of work and dedication but while there is a lot of competition in the industry there is also a lot of opportunities. Be an advocate for yourself and work hard. You also have to immerse yourself and find a way to set yourself apart. Take the time to develop your skills and tastes, develop a palate and challenge yourself to figure out what makes you unique and stand out – regardless if you are a female or male. Try to think [about] why somebody should invest in you and seek out your talents and expertise, regardless of your gender.