A Woman's Place

The Inventors, Rumrunners, Lawbreakers, Scientists, and Single Moms Who Changed the World with Food


Illustrated by Jessica Olah

With Stef Ferrari

By Deepi Ahluwalia

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Discover the trailblazing women who changed the world from their kitchens.

If “a woman’s place is in the kitchen,” why is the history of food such an old boys’ club?

A Woman’s Place sets the record straight, sharing stories of more than 80 hidden figures of food who made a lasting mark on history.

In an era when women were told to stay at home and leave glory to the men, these rebel women used the transformative power of food to break barriers and fight for a better world. Discover the stories of:
  • Georgia Gilmore, who fueled the Montgomery Bus Boycott with chicken sandwiches and slices of pie
  • Hattie Burr, who financed the fight for female suffrage by publishing cookbooks
  • Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, who, with just a few grains of salt, inspired a march for the independence of India
  • The inventors of the dishwasher, coffee filter, the first buffalo wings, Veuve Clicquot champagne, the PB&J sandwich, and more.
With gorgeous full-color illustrations and 10 recipes that bring the story off of the page and onto your plate, this book reclaims women’s rightful place–in the kitchen, and beyond.



my mother, Ramjit Kaur, and my warrior princesses, Paavni Kaur and Suhaavi Kaur



my own personal trailblazers—in the kitchen and far beyond




THIS BOOK BEGAN WITH A QUESTION: If a woman’s place has always been in the kitchen, then why does culinary history read like the guest list of some old boys’ club? Women were the stars of our holiday traditions and romanticized tales of home cooking passed down through generations, but a glance at the front pages of food publications, lists of the world’s best restaurants, or even our corner bistro revealed a different face of the food industry: men. Women may be depicted slaving over the proverbial (or literal) hot stove (before putting dinner on the table in a perfectly pressed dress), but rarely are we considered fit for jobs in professional kitchens. Men have long been the ones holding the pens that recorded history, but so often it was women wielding the knives—not to mention the spatulas, the spoons, and the know-how. So where were they?

Between the two of us authors, we’ve racked up four decades of industry experience in culinary schools and kitchens of all kinds, in cities all over the country, and in just about every post from line cook to pastry chef to beer sommelier before settling into food writing, photography, and documentary filmmaking. We’ve seen almost everything the food world has to offer, except for one thing: female representation.

But we knew that women had been there all along, and when we looked, we found countless women who changed the world of food. And we also found women who used food to change the world.

We learned that women made the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the modern-day doughnut, but we also learned that they made history. Some used food for protest, as a tool to make people feel something—pride, outrage, or a call to action. For these women, food was political in surprising and subtle ways: in making freshly churned ice cream a treat for everyone regardless of class; in a recipe for Chinese stir-fry that gave expatriate families a taste of home; in a fried chicken sandwich that financed a community of civil rights activists.

But these women (and girls) weren’t just sugar and spice—they were full of fire. In these pages, you’ll meet rumrunners and lawbreakers, women who weren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, for money or love, or for the good of humanity. They made it their mission to move the needle, rules be damned. And these innovators, instigators, and inventors made contributions to science, technology, culture, and politics that reached far beyond the dinner table.

A Woman’s Place is about telling their stories, giving these fierce women a face and a voice. It’s about changing the narrative about women in the food world. It’s about demonstrating that if a woman found herself in a kitchen, it wasn’t because she was forced there; more often than not, she fought her way in. It’s not about rewriting history—it’s about uncovering what’s been there all along. It’s about due credit, in the kitchen and on our dinner tables. It’s about inspiring members of a new generation to embrace their own creativity, to transcend their own circumstances, to take energy from what came before, and to use their skill—in any profession—to change the world.

It’s about giving women their rightful place—in the kitchen.

Catherine de’ Medici


WHEN YOU SIT DOWN to eat at your favorite French bistro, enjoy the formal ceremony of a fancy restaurant, or even use a fork, you have a woman to thank. Born in 1519, the daughter of an Italian statesman and a French princess, Catherine de’ Medici was sent at the age of fourteen to marry the heir to the French throne, the future Henry II. A royal engagement may sound like a dream, but Catherine’s marriage was hardly the stuff of fairy tales. France, her new home, was less than enthusiastic about the match and became even more critical of the new queen when she failed to produce an heir. Henry quickly and publicly took a mistress and allowed Catherine very little influence in matters of state. In lieu of motherhood and governance, she found purpose elsewhere, taking inspiration from the flowering of culture in Italy later known as the Renaissance, which began in her hometown of Florence, and establishing herself as a patron of the arts. The culinary arts were no exception, and what she was unable to accomplish in politics, she made up for in the royal kitchen.

Catherine introduced Italian ingredients that would go on to inform much of French cuisine—from foods like artichokes, peas, spinach, lettuce, and broccoli, to aspics, veal, sweetbreads, and truffles, to sweeter things like cream puffs, custards, cakes, sherbets, and ices, not to mention, of course, pasta. Even some quintessential French dishes, like duck à l’orange, are said to have been brought from Italy at Catherine’s behest.

Beyond food, Catherine conveyed Italian custom and style to her new country’s tableside. Now it may seem as if the French invented table manners, but in the sixteenth century, it would have been more common to see French nobility digging into their dinner with bare hands. Before Catherine introduced the fork, an Italian invention, dishes were primarily eaten as finger foods; stews and similar hearty dishes were still served with a knife and a slice of bread, to be speared and scooped. Just try to imagine a fancy French restaurant today that wouldn’t be more than a little horrified by that practice.

It’s hard to say for certain how many items made their way across borders as a result, but Catherine’s culinary influence is indisputable. By uniting the heritages of France and Italy, she helped lay the foundation of French cuisine, widely considered to be the first fine-dining culture.

Lena Richard


DECADES BEFORE JULIA CHILD became synonymous with domestic prowess, there was Lena Richard: the first African-American culinary icon. Through her kitchen skills and business savvy, Lena’s empire grew to include cookbooks, restaurants, and a television show. And she did it all during the height of segregation and racial prejudice in America.

In the era of Jim Crow, “opportunity” was hard to come by. Racist laws disenfranchised and humiliated African Americans, and careers for women of color were mostly limited to domestic work. Lena began earning a salary around 1906 in the kitchen of Alice Nugent Vairin, a socialite who nonetheless recognized her gift for cooking. Alice offered to fund Lena’s culinary education—first at a local New Orleans cooking school, then at the Fannie Farmer cooking school in Boston—and Lena leapt at the chance.

But she already had what it took. “When I got up there,” she said of her experience at the legendary cooking school, “I found out in a hurry they can’t teach me much more than I know… when it comes to cooking meats, stews, soups and sauces; we Southern cooks have Northern cooks beat by a mile.” Emboldened, Lena returned home to launch her catering business. She was so successful that she was able to open a sweet shop, and eventually her own cooking school, where even white socialites lined up for her demos. Her 1939 self-published work, Lena Richard’s Cook Book, caught the attention of publishing house Houghton Mifflin, which reissued the book under the title New Orleans Cook Book as a singular collection of Creole recipes.

Lena left New Orleans to head restaurants in New York and Colonial Williamsburg, started a frozen-food line with her daughter, and launched two restaurants, including Lena’s Eatery in 1941. The latter was famous for its integrated dining room, where blacks and whites ate together in deliberate violation of forced segregation laws. Lena hosted her own cooking show, decades before Julia Child became the first chef to appear on live TV.

Despite the devaluing of black lives by the world around her, Lena knew her self-worth. Her success was a source of hometown pride, and she was living proof for countless African Americans of what they could achieve if they were empowered to pursue their own dreams.

Eugénie (“La Mère”) Brazier


IN THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY, the in-crowd of Paris’s haute cuisine was a boys’ club. But it was Eugénie Brazier, a tough-as-nails farm girl from the countryside, who beat out the boys to become one of the most decorated chefs in French history.

Raised in rural Certines, Eugénie learned uncomplicated country dishes—soups, breads, tarts, and tripe—at her mother’s side. When she became a mother herself, she moved to Lyon to find work and became an apprentice in the all-female kitchen of Françoise Fillioux. There, she learned to cook with truffles and foie gras, larks, ortolans, and partridges—luxury ingredients Eugénie learned to handle like a boss. She experimented with ingredients and tweaked recipes, at times butting heads with Françoise, a celebrated chef in her own right. Eventually, Eugénie left Françoise to head another kitchen, opening her own restaurant in Lyon at the age of twenty-six.

Eugénie was a master of simplicity and perfectionism, taking basic ingredients and turning them into culinary symphonies. Her dishes, from artichokes with foie gras to truffled chicken—known as Chicken in Half-Mourning due to the veil-like appearance of black truffles tucked under the skin—were without gimmick. Despite her meager education, she had a shrewd business sense and knew the value of strong relationships, from faithful vendors on whom she relied for superior ingredients to regular guests who became close friends.

A sturdy woman, she commanded her two restaurants—the Lyon establishment and one in the foothills of the Alps—with a stern hand, hot temper, and exacting standards. Eugénie was so committed to quality that she spent a week in prison for repeatedly ignoring mandatory wartime rations. Over decades, word of her cooking spread, attracting aspiring chefs seeking her mentorship, including the legendary Paul Bocuse, who arrived at her doorstep barely out of his teens.

Eugénie was the first chef to ever receive six Michelin stars: three for each restaurant. She let the culinary patriarchy know that fine cooking was not just a man’s world and is still revered as the mother—la mère—of modern French cuisine.

Encarnación Pinedo


TODAY, MEXICAN FOOD MAY be one of the most popular cuisines in the world, with taco trucks as internationally ubiquitous as the golden arches or Coca-Cola cans. But in 1898, when Encarnación Pinedo published her cookbook El Cocinero Español (The Spanish Cook), the foods of Mexico were—much like its people—underrepresented and unappreciated.

Though her family’s wealth was dramatically reduced following the Mexican-American War, the Pinedos, land-owning Californios (Mexican Americans living in what is now California), still provided Encarnación with a strong education. Born in 1848, the year California moved from Mexican control to that of the United States, Encarnación was arguably one of the first bicultural figures in American history. Her book is a reflection of that experience, with ingredients from the New World, like tomatoes, squash, and chiles, as well as European ones like shallots and almonds, capers and spices. Recipes span cultures from French to Italian to German, evidence of historical influence and migration across borders, oceans, and eras.

Her recipes embraced a cross section of cultural influences, but Encarnación wasn’t exactly hiding her disdain for the English-speaking world that had wreaked havoc on her family’s life. With dishes like Huevos Hipócritas, or “Hypocrite’s Eggs” (a breakfast of ham and eggs beloved by white Europeans)—or through passages in which she refers to foods of “the Englishman” as “the most insipid and tasteless that one can imagine”—it’s obvious that her contempt was as much for colonialism as flavorless food.

El Cocinero Español was given new life in the early 1990s when then Los Angeles Times food critic Ruth Reichl called it the earliest iteration of modern Mexican food and the precursor to California cuisine. In fact, its global influence and tendency toward vegetable-forward, ingredient-driven dishes that highlight fresh herbs, fruits, and wood-fire grilling techniques would probably have made Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck proud. The book was edited and translated into English by Dan Strehl, co-founder of Culinary Historians of Southern California, and released in 2003 by the University of California Press as Encarnación’s Kitchen.

Maybe Encarnación knew in 1898 that she was writing an important collection—one that revealed the new Latina world through her own eyes. But she had no way of knowing she was articulating challenges her bicultural kin continue to face more than a century later. Today, her words still provide not only foundational recipes for present-day cuisine, but priceless context to the modern Latin American experience.

Esther Eng


FAMED NEW YORK TIMES food critic Craig Claiborne had only one complaint about Bo Bo’s, the acclaimed Chinatown restaurant owned by Esther Eng, powerhouse film director turned restaurateur: it was too damn hard to get a table. Regardless of her medium, no matter what she decided to do, Esther did it her way, and in the process redefined the lines of race, gender, sexuality, and culture.

Growing up in San Francisco, young Esther was totally hooked on the vibrant arts scene of the Chinese community. Fortunately, that interest ran in the family. Her father founded a production company, to use films to promote Chinese culture. Esther made movies in both Chinese and English, and helped to establish Chinese opera in the United States. Bruce Lee even made his film debut as an infant in one of her early movies, 1941’s Golden Gate Girl.

Esther, who lived openly as a lesbian, moved to New York City, where she joined up with a network of actors unable to leave the United States due to China’s new communist regime. Esther saw an opportunity to help her struggling, stranded community and opened a restaurant where Chinese-American actors could find reliable employment and work on their English. She named it Bo Bo’s, for one such friend.

But Bo Bo’s wasn’t a charity project; the restaurant received raves. And while it was frequented by high society, Esther didn’t compromise her culture. Bo Bo’s served authentic Chinese dishes—if pricey ones, with an emphasis on lobster and steak—instead of the more common Americanized interpretations. Between 1950 and 1967, Esther opened five restaurants, where she could often be found among the crowds of diners, rocking the suits and short haircuts then considered acceptable only for men. Esther lived her life openly and honestly, defying societal expectations and always being herself.

Esther was a passionate, creative, and courageous fighter for her culture and community. She challenged the status quo as a woman in not one but two male-dominated industries. And she did it all by pushing the boundaries of what it meant to be bicultural, queer, and female, never hiding who she truly was.



EQUIPMENT: 4½-quart Dutch oven, tinfoil

3 pounds beef short ribs, cut into 4-ounce portions

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon ginger, grated

1 teaspoon five-spice powder

½ teaspoon chili-garlic sauce

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

¼ teaspoon mustard powder

¼ teaspoon Santa Maria seasoning (available online)

1 teaspoon canola oil

1½ tablespoons garlic, minced

2 cups water

¼ cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon mirin

1½ teaspoons sesame oil

3 tablespoons orange juice

12 green onion bulbs (save stalks for garnish)


On Sale
Mar 5, 2019
Page Count
192 pages

Jessica Olah

About the Illustrator

Deepi Ahluwalia is a food writer and photographer and a columnist for Life & Thyme magazine. She has worked with such brands, companies, and publications as American Airlines, Nestle, JCPenney, the Dallas Morning News, Jacques Torres Chocolate, and Wal-Mart. She holds a degree in pastry arts from the French Culinary Institute.

Stef Ferrari is Senior Editor of Life & Thyme Magazine. She is an Emmy-winning, James Beard Award-nominated producer on the documentary series The Migrant Kitchen, which explores the influence of immigrant culture on America’s foodways. Her recipes have been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Southern Living, and she has appeared on the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen and Unique Sweets.

Learn more about this illustrator

Deepi Ahluwalia

About the Author

Deepi Ahluwalia is a food writer and photographer and a columnist for Life & Thyme magazine. She has worked with such brands, companies, and publications as American Airlines, Nestle, JCPenney, the Dallas Morning News, Jacques Torres Chocolate, and Wal-Mart. She holds a degree in pastry arts from the French Culinary Institute.

Stef Ferrari is Senior Editor of Life & Thyme Magazine. She is an Emmy-winning, James Beard Award-nominated producer on the documentary series The Migrant Kitchen, which explores the influence of immigrant culture on America’s foodways. Her recipes have been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, and Southern Living, and she has appeared on the Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen and Unique Sweets.

Learn more about this author