An array of award-winning female chefs are set to headline the 12th annual Cayman Cookout alongside their esteemed male counterparts. Skies shines the spotlight on three of these exceptionally talented culinary leaders: Clare Smyth, Niki Nakayama and Stephanie Izard.
As head chefs and owners of highly successful restaurants, each has carved her own niche in a highly competitive, male-dominated industry. Along the way, they have received distinguished accolades, inspired young chefs and satisfied the bellies of many foodies.
Clare Smyth, MBE
Chef/Owner — Core
When it comes to creating dishes, Clare Smyth follows her own agenda, taking influence from nature, food producers and her own culture. Smyth is chef patron and owner of Core, an “informal” fine-dining restaurant situated in the heart of Notting Hill, London. Since opening in 2017, Core has received numerous awards, including two stars as new entry in the 2019 Michelin Guide and a perfect 10 in the coveted Good Food Guide.
Smyth also happens to be the first and only female chef to have run a restaurant with three Michelin stars in the United Kingdom when she was head chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, but it doesn’t stop there. She was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2013 for services to the hospitality industry; and in 2018, she was awarded World’s Best Female Chef by the World’s 50 Best. She also happened to cater the private wedding reception for the Royal Wedding between Meghan and Harry the same year.
Despite it all, awards do not motivate Smyth; rather, she has a fierce drive that blends passion with hard work. Says Smyth: “It is easy for me because I love what I do. I have always been very motivated and driven. I pretty much work all of the time, from when I wake up till I go to bed, starting with emails as soon as I wake up. I spend around nine hours a day in service with my team, walk the dog and run the business in between.”
Smyth’s early upbringing as a farmer’s daughter in Northern Ireland has shaped her approach to cuisine, with Core’s menu placing emphasis on natural, sustainable food, sourced from U.K.-based farmers and food producers. “I do think that growing up on a farm had an influence on how I cook and the respect that I have for the produce knowing the hard work that goes into producing it. Working with Alain Ducasse at Louis XV restaurant [in Monte Carlo] really cemented my love of vegetables and cooking in a lighter style,” says Smyth.
For those wishing to follow in her footsteps, she advises to find the right mentor to work for, and then work hard and be dedicated. “Things have changed considerably over the last 15 years, and I don’t think that women are looked upon differently in the kitchen any more. If any aspiring female chefs finds themselves in that situation, then my advice would be to get out and work somewhere decent. There are amazing chefs out there to follow.”
Chef/Owner — n/naka
Nakayama has not only mastered the art of modern Japanese kaiseki (multi-course) cuisine for her clientele at n/naka, but she’s managed to redefine the perception of “sushi chef.”
Nakayama is the head chef and owner of n/naka, located in Los Angeles, California, and works alongside her wife Carole Iida-Nakayama, who serves as partner and sous chef. In 2019, n/naka received two Michelin stars and was listed as one of the World’s 30 Best Restaurants in Food + Wine.
The cuisine at n/naka is presented as 13 courses with a progression of dishes made using various cooking techniques. “One of the core pillars of kaiseki cuisine is to honour nature and your surroundings, so we integrate as many California ingredients as possible, which includes produce grown in our home garden,” says Nakayama.
She doesn’t believe gender or age has a role in the kitchen, explaining that it’s more important to strive towards whatever goal you have in mind. “The skills required of chefs are the same whether you’re male or female; my one piece of advice is to not let the imbalance of gender in our industry discourage you. It is always more satisfying to forge a path less travelled, and the roadblocks only offer a chance to build resilience and an ability to overcome obstacles.”
Executive Chef/Co-Owner —
Girl & the Goat, Little Goat Diner,
Duck Duck Goat and Cabra Cevicheria
To say that Chicago-born chef Stephanie Izard is a high-energy multitasker would be an understatement. She is the busy mother of a young son, Ernie, as well as co-owner and executive chef of three award-winning Chicago restaurants: Girl & the Goat, Little Goat Diner, and Duck Duck Goat, all located in the hip West Loop food and entertainment district in Chicago. In Spring 2019, she also opened a fourth restaurant, Cabra Cevicheria, a rooftop Peruvian-inspired restaurant at The Hoxton Hotel in Chicago.
Cooking show addicts may recognise Izard from the fourth season of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” where she was the first female chef to take the title. Since her win, she has made a number of appearances on the show; and in 2017, Izard competed in the Food Network series “Iron Chef Gauntlet,” winning the title of Iron Chef.
The idea for Girl & the Goat, which opened in 2010, began to take shape after she met her business partners Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm of BOKA Restaurant Group. “My last name, Izard, is actually a goat in the French Pyrenees mountains; so when we opened Girl & the Goat, we thought it would be a perfect tie-in. I hadn’t originally planned on serving goat at the restaurant, but with the name we felt like we should highlight it. So I began working more and more with the meat, which is actually very lean and tasty; and it’s become one of our staples!” she says.
Izard went on to receive a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes in 2013 for her work at Girl & the Goat. Although goat dishes are not normally featured in America cuisine as it is in many Caribbean dishes, goat has been the catalyst and inspiration for her two other restaurants, Little Goat Diner and Duck Duck Goat, as well as This Little Goat, her retail sauces and spices line.
Her restaurants are designed to highlight the way she likes to eat, which is trying lots of bites and flavours and textures all at once. “At Girl & the Goat, all of our plates are meant to share so that you can have a variety of food; and at Little Goat, where the dishes are less shareable, I make sure that our guests get interesting flavours and textures in every bite,” says Izard.
She makes it a priority to get ready for the day with Ernie before dropping him off at preschool and heading to work. From there, she bounces between all four restaurants, which are within walking distance of each other. She also tries to be home before Ernie’s bath time — that is, when she’s not travelling.
“It’s definitely tricky to balance parenting and work. There is not much free time, but I’ve started taking a 24-hour trip each month to a different city to spend the day eating at different restaurants. One weekend was Montreal [Canada]; I think we went to 10 different places to eat that day.”
Author: Lisa Boushy Mack