Lien Ta, Nyesha Arrington and Vitus “V” Spehar speak on a panel

Culinary Career Advice from Female Leaders

Successful women in the restaurant industry share wisdom with ICE students.

Last month, the Institute of Culinary Education and the James Beard Foundation hosted a Women in Leadership panel at our Los Angeles campus. The panelists included chefs Nyesha Arrington and Sherry Yard and restaurateur Lien Ta, who shared diverse viewpoints and insights from their years of experience in the restaurant industry.

Chef Nyesha is a “Top Chef” alum and the former chef/owner of Native restaurant in Santa Monica; Chef Sherry is a 20-year veteran of the Wolfgang Puck Restaurant Group turned COO of iPic Entertainment and judge on the “Great American Baking Show;” and Lien was an entertainment reporter and editor before becoming the savvy co-owner of two trendy LA restaurants, All Day Baby and Here’s Looking at You. The lively panel was masterfully moderated by Vitus “V” Spehar, director of impact at the James Beard Foundation.

Women in Leadership panel guests Sherry Yard Lien Ta, Nyesha Arrington and Vitus “V” Spehar pose with students at ICE's Los Angeles campus.
Women in Leadership panel guests Sherry Yard Lien Ta, Nyesha Arrington and Vitus “V” Spehar pose with students at ICE's Los Angeles campus.

Here are a few key takeaways from the conversation among women leaders in the culinary industry.

It’s Never a Straight Path

Chef Sherry attended culinary school in 1986 before working at the landmark Rainbow Room in New York City and in catering. “My path was always open,” she said. “I was living in New York, but it was very male-dominated so I moved to San Francisco. I worked at Campton Place doing breakfast, lunch, dinner and room service. I didn’t leave the place. I constantly surrounded myself with the best.” That paid off when chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck called her about a restaurant opening in Napa Valley. Chef Sherry spent two decades with his restaurants, cookbooks and TV shows. “Anytime I got bored with anything, he would say, ‘What do you want to do next?’” She left intending to open a bakery but became a COO instead. “It’s never a straight path and just when you think stuff is like s---, there’s a gold coin in there.”

Identify Your Strengths and Speak Up

“You probably have 500 strengths,” Lien advised students. “If you know what those are, you can always talk about that. I’m really good at communicating and listening. I’m not good at cooking, but I hire great cooks and great chefs.”

Lien said her commitment to opening a restaurant led to a lot of funding, which gave her a platform to speak up. “I was going to open a restaurant and I was not going to fail,” she said. “If you are a woman of color and suddenly it’s now important to stand up and say something, say something meaningful. You have a responsibility now to provoke impact. That was the biggest fear I had to overcome.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes

Chef Nyesha said she consciously worked with the best chefs, even though most of the time that made her a minority as a woman of color. “I showed up as Nyesha Arrington: ‘the chef to be,’ willing to do everything it takes to get and attain excellence,” she said. “For me, that was having the sharpest knife in the kitchen, sweeping the floors, taking out the trash, being the first one there and the last to leave, and holding myself to a higher caliber. If I didn’t know a technique or certain procedure, I would study it and ask questions and be vulnerable and make a lot of mistakes. That for me is a big part of the learning process. Put yourself out there and make mistakes because that’s part of the human condition."

Meet women leaders at ICE and explore your professional path in our career programs.

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