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How cultivating women chefs can make the restaurant industry ‘a better place’

For decades, restaurant kitchens have been spaces dominated by men. Award-winning chef Edward Lee is trying to change that, founding the Women Chefs of Kentucky Initiative to diversify the culinary industry and train more female chefs for leadership roles. Renee Shaw of Kentucky Educational Television reports on how Lee is trying to cultivate "great activists for the next generation" of cooking.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to our "NewsHour" Shares, something interesting that caught our eye.

    For decades, the culinary industry has been lead largely by men.

    But, as Renee Shaw and producer Abbey Oldham of PBS' Kentucky Educational Television report, one high-profile chef is trying to change that.

  • Edward Lee:

    This is an industry that I love. It's an industry that I have devoted my life to. And the restaurant industry is just a very tough and high-pressure environment.

  • Renee Shaw:

    Edward Lee is an award-winning chef, author and owner of five restaurants in the Louisville, Kentucky, and Washington, D.C., regions.

    In 2015, he founded The LEE Initiative, a nonprofit seeking to increase diversity and equality in the restaurant industry. Last year, the group launched the Women Chefs of Kentucky Initiative as part of that mission.

  • Edward Lee:

    What we're looking for are young women chefs who are not only going to rise to be great chefs, owners, investors, what have you, but also great activists for the next generation.

  • Renee Shaw:

    Five female chefs from Kentucky were selected in the inaugural year of the program. In addition to participating in group learning events throughout the year, each woman spent a week being mentored by an established female chef elsewhere in the country.

    Lindsey Ofcacek is The LEE Initiative's managing director.

  • Lindsey Ofcacek:

    We wanted a way to bridge the gap between women in leadership roles and women at the bottom in the restaurant industry. When you come in, you see a lot of women who are servers and back waits and bussers and bartenders, but you don't meet a lot of women who are general managers, chefs and owners.

  • Renee Shaw:

    Mentee Nikkia Rhodes studied under chef Anne Quatrano in Atlanta, Georgia.

  • Nikkia Rhodes:

    I have never worked in a kitchen so diverse, from race to age to sex. It was really interesting and really powerful for me to see. And since doing this, I have realized that I can't just be into my work. I have to be developing myself too.

  • Renee Shaw:

    The program culminated with the five women preparing and executing a menu at New York City's renowned James Beard House in the fall.

  • Edward Lee:

    At the end of the day, like, they have to perform as well. This isn't a feel-good charity. And I have confidence in them. We picked the best that we found. And so they have to live up to that challenge.

  • Renee Shaw:

    And, in doing so, Lee hopes the Women Chefs of Kentucky Initiative will help address another challenge facing the culinary industry: allegations of sexual misconduct by high-profile chefs and restaurateurs.

  • Edward Lee:

    For every bad chef that's out there, there's an army of good ones. And when you have women in positions of power, you just have companies that are just run with a little more equality, more fairness.

  • Renee Shaw:

    And while it is a new and small program, Lee hopes his initiative will stimulate a ripple effect across the industry.

  • Edward Lee:

    We're trying to use our platform to make the restaurant community a better place. If I can inspire five, 10, 15, 20 young chefs to do the same in the future, it just creates now this environment where all that starts to blossom.

  • Renee Shaw:

    The Women Chefs of Kentucky Initiative will select its next group of mentees in March.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Renee Shaw in Louisville, Kentucky.

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