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Food & Drink

On the Line: Finding female chefs in San Antonio

Photo: Photos by Josh Huskin, License: N/A

Photos by Josh Huskin

Brooke Smith runs a tight ship at the Esquire Tavern

Photo: , License: N/A

Jame Arias and Fanny Valdez with their 36-foot-long RV kitchen


Ass-grabbing aside, Smith admits running a kitchen isn’t for the meek.

“It’s a huge emotional load to hear what everyone’s going through, what everyone’s getting upset about. You have to manage all of that and keep yourself cool and collected,” Smith said.

At just over two years at the helm of the staff, Smith is still learning how to delegate, put procedures in place and look over a staff.

When asked about other female chefs, she mentions Caitlin Simmons, kitchen manager at Stella Public House and former chef at Auden’s Kitchen; when pressed with where women might go in the industry if not heading up a restaurant, she points to catering.

You Don’t Own Me

“You get to plan for it, you know what happens every night,” Smith said of one of the more popular paths for female chefs. “At restaurants, you’re going through shit, going through towels, dropping tongs. You’re so frantic you might not know if you’re going to make it through the night. Catering is a different beast. You know your numbers.”

Catering also allows more flexibility. Jennifer Dobbertin, who previously worked in nonprofit management, kind of fell into food. After living in Bangkok for several years, she returned to the States and wanted to replicate those authentic Asian flavors. Because she has no professional training, she hesitates to call herself a chef.

She worked in a kitchen briefly before realizing that being on a line wasn’t for her.

“I don’t have the energy for it. I started late and I have total respect for everyone in the kitchen that works as hard as they do…if I had started 10 years ago, it’d be a different story,”said Dobbertin.

She had some insight into industry life as a child. Her classically trained chef father launched his own eatery and Dobbertin was able to see how hard her parents worked, how much of a strain it put on her parent’s relationship and how grueling kitchen life can be.

Her brief commercial kitchen stint also gave Dobbertin a taste of what she called a “locker room” setting.

“It’s boys. It’s an extremely male-dominated environment, so I had to put my head down and get to work. I’m kind of a tomboy as well, so I can kind of join in a little bit, but it’s still tough,” Dobbertin said.

To pursue her newfound love of food, and not have to climb up an old-school kitchen hierarchy, Dobbertin started several culinary ventures: We Both Love Soup (which is on a summertime hiatus), Hot Mess Catering and Riff Raff Supper Club.

The advantages of catering are clear for Dobbertin who can plan menus in advance, take as many jobs as she wants and have more control over her hours and the people she employs.

“When you’re working the line, you don’t have control over rush, over how many people to expect or what to prep for. You’re making educated guesses,” Dobbertin said. “I might have control issues,” she admitted.

Fanny Valdez, 55, and daughter Jame Arias, 33, skipped the brick-and-mortar hot line and opened the food truck Sabor Colombiano on Wheels in 2011. With three summers under their belt, the mother-daughter team are setting their own schedules, working about five hours a day, four days a week and sticking with corporate lunches, events and catering.

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