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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

“Jame’s pregnant so we still know what our priorities are,” Valdez said.

The pair has to drive the 36-foot RV to gigs, change propane tanks and load product into the truck for every event.

“A lot of people ask, ‘Who’s the boss? Who owns this?’ It’s very cool for us as women to be the ones in charge. We’re the boss, manager, operator, cook, cleaner—everything,” Arias said.

As founder of Southtown’s chili provider (aka the mobile Institute of Chili), Ana Fernandez doesn’t see a gender divide, if anything, being a female fit the image for her original concept she deemed a traditional way to make money in San Antonio, recalling the ladies who operated open-air chili stands in SA at the beginning of the 20th century. Also wary of self-designating as a chef, Fernandez gets a kick out of being among the minority in the “boy’s club.”

“I don’t think that’s a bad thing, I don’t feel excluded from the group,” Fernandez said. “I want to stick out.”

Valdez says the only disadvantage to being female proprietors and chef is when their 27-year-old RV breaks down on the road.

“We have insurance and a really nice mechanic,” she laughs.

Whitney Matthews, owner of the SpiceSea Gourmet truck, takes great pride in being able to service her loyal steed.

“The difference between when I started and now, is that people used to say, ‘Look at that little girl driving that truck around.’ Now when I go places, people call me chef, and I still turn around and I’m like ‘who are you talking about?’” said Matthews.

A graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and the Culinary Institute of America-Hyde Park, Matthews worked in several kitchens before opening her own truck. She cut her teeth under Bruce Auden at Biga on the Banks, worked at the CIA as a manager-in-training and later the CIA Bakery and finally at RoMo’s Café as sous chef for Rob Yoas.

“I firmly believe San Antonio is about 10 years behind in the culinary world and in a world accepting women as leaders [in the kitchen],” Matthews said. Yet, she’s a perfect example that it can be done.

“I liked the restaurant setting, I just didn’t like working for anyone else, I liked the adrenaline rush and it does translate onto the food truck,” Matthews said.

I’m Every Woman

Margeaux Alcorta, 26, sous chef at BIN 555 is another adrenaline junkie who jumped into the field after quitting her job and applying to Le Cordon Bleu in Las Vegas.

“You have to have some thick skin,” Alcorta said, echoing Nanez, “I worked with a great bunch of guys who took me under their wings and I wasn’t scared to be on the line. I wasn’t scared of the fire. I wanted to be thrown in the pit.”

For Alcorta, who’s dating Tre Trattoria sous chef Ancelmo Barrera, choosing between starting a family and running a restaurant won’t be a problem.

“I see Jason, who has four restaurants and the DUK Truck, and they mange to have a happy family. The kids will come in, we’ll make them pizza. It’s not an issue,” Alcorta said.

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