Women Chefs and Activists Crushed It In the Food Scene in 2017 | Food Feature | Indy Week
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Women Chefs and Activists Crushed It In the Food Scene in 2017 

This year empowered us in the food world to pay extra close attention to the emboldened local women who make us proud. And, in 2017, women were not just celebrated as chefs, they also strengthened our communities through activism and conscious efforts to give back. Here are a few.

Shorlette Ammons

Center for EnvironmentalFarming Systems (CEFS)

For years, Shorlette Ammons has led anti-racism workshops and initiatives for N.C. State's CEFS. She helps organize food councils around the state to ensure that the issue of racial equity in food and farming systems is always on the table. In 2017, she and Greensboro-based colleague Bevelyn Ukah focused on empowering youth through food narratives, collaborating with public libraries and child care facilities to create learning packets that root life lessons in food traditions. Growing up in eastern North Carolina, Ammons says this "used to be my story. Now it's their story. [I'm working with] kids of white farmers and kids from farm-working families. It got me thinking about whose narrative is elevated." —Victoria Bouloubasis

click to enlarge Ashley Christensen - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange
  • Ashley Christensen

Ashley Christensen, AC Restaurants

Ashley Christensen's long-awaited first cookbook, Poole's: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner, was published at the end of last year but quickly found its way into kitchens across the country, divulging the secrets of her mac and cheese au gratin. More important, Christensen solidified her position as an outspoken ally. After decrying HB2 last year, she again sent a strong message to her customers and the industry, this time about sexual harassment in the restaurant world. In a long Facebook post, she opened up about an incident at her own restaurant and the steps her team took to address it. "While these reports are difficult and disheartening and confusing, I'm grateful for the spotlight that it's shining on the work that needs to be done," she wrote. "Lewd language and behavior is so often overlooked or tolerated in restaurants, and as leaders, we have to take the steps to cleanse our industry of this." For this, Eater named her chef of the year. —Iza Wojciechowska

click to enlarge Cheetie Kumar - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE
  • Photo by Jeremy M. Lange
  • Cheetie Kumar

Cheetie Kumar, Garland

In February, Cheetie Kumar, chef and owner of Garland in downtown Raleigh, was nominated for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast. "This was not on my radar at all," she laughs. "I definitely thought I was like four or five years away from being looked at." Her nomination served as an affirmation, given that the musician didn't end up as a chef and restaurant owner through a normal trajectory. Kumar also participated in fundraisers fighting childhood nutrition scarcity in North Carolina and put out a new album—Operator's Midnight—with her band, Birds of Avalon. She is looking forward to finding more balance and harmony in 2018 with a trip to India for the first time in eighteen years. Kumar's mother passed away last year, and she wants to visit and reconnect with her roots. "I never realized it, but she was the anchor that made us Indian. I just really need to know where I fit into all of that." —Laura White

click to enlarge Vimala Rajendran - PHOTO BY ADAM DAVID KISSICK
  • Photo by Adam David Kissick
  • Vimala Rajendran

Vimala Rajendran

Vimala's Curryblossom Café

Vimala Rajendran has long understood the need for restaurants to be gathering spaces, with a symbiotic relationship to the community. She has extended the motto "Vimala Cooks, Everybody Eats" to provide free meals for newly settled refugee families, both through organizations and her own community Thanksgiving dinners, now two years running. The nonprofit Curryblossom Foundation launches in 2018, to meet the needs of the working poor, she says, whether it's through food or other assistance. As always, anyone can walk into the restaurant and order a meal on the house, made possible through a community fund. —Victoria Bouloubasis

click to enlarge Andrea Reusing - PHOTO BY NATALIE ROSS
  • Photo by Natalie Ross
  • Andrea Reusing

Andrea Reusing Lantern and The Durham

As a James Beard Award winner and executive chef of two Triangle restaurant darlings, Andrea Reusing obviously thinks a lot about food and its origins. But whether strawberries are grown locally or chickens roam free isn't enough, she says, if you don't also consider the conditions of the workers who make all that food possible. "When as chefs we wonder whether a pork chop tastes better if the pig ate corn or nuts but we don't talk about the people who worked in the slaughterhouse where it was processed, we are creating a kind of theater," she wrote in a stirring piece for NPR's The Salt this summer. Her call to action asks fellow chefs to consider issues of racism, immigration, and wage inequality when thinking about their food. —Iza Wojciechowska

click to enlarge Angela Salamanca - PHOTO BY ALEX BOERNER
  • Photo by Alex Boerner
  • Angela Salamanca

Angela Salamanca, Centro

Creating community and sustaining it might just be why Centro celebrated a decade in September. Angela Salamanca and her crew have a longstanding tradition of service. In February Salamanca closed the restaurant so that her staff could participate in the Day Without Immigrants. This spring Centro hosted a brunch to benefit Alerta Migratoria, a Durham-based resource for undocumented immigrants seeking asylum. At work, the crew has been educating employees about their rights. Centro also hosts an annual Dia de los Muertos 5k, which just ran for a seventh year, to benefit the Brentwood Boys and Girls Club—the after-school programs which serve a population that is 98 percent Latino. Next year she hopes to work with Brentwood to raise funds for a new building. —Laura White

Stephanie Terry (center) - PHOTO BY CAITLIN PENNA
  • Photo by Caitlin Penna
  • Stephanie Terry (center)

Stephanie Terry Sweeties Southern & Vegan Catering

Stephanie Terry officially launched her catering business this year, which she proudly calls anti-racist. Terry shares her vision of an equitable society through her own experiences as a community organizer and a formerly homeless single mother of five. "There are historical roots in economic inequity," she says, a refrain that serves as a reminder to foodies who have been duped into thinking all soul food or Southern food is unhealthy. By catering Triangle anti-racism workshops and cooking for Durham Co-op Market's Meatless Monday buffets, Terry roots her food in tradition with tweaks to highlight nutrient-rich, seasonal ingredients. She reminds us that we all deserve to indulge in good food. —Victoria Bouloubasis


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