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Breaking the stainless steel ceiling

Recent research from the National Restaurant Association reveals that nearly 50 percent of restaurants are now owned by women. The impact of this stat was in full view on Wednesday, June 29, when several renowned female chef-owners gathered with a group of illustrious women in the culinary field for lunch at Millesime in New York City. I was privileged to take part in this delicious and lively experience, in which we dined on an expertly prepared multi-course lunch accompanied by spirited conversation on breaking the barriers to success in the restaurant industry.

I tried not to be too starstruck as I entered the room and saw the likes of Martha Stewart, Ruth Reichl, Florence Fabricant, Sarah Moulton and other culinary luminaries, each of whom headed a table of guests. I sat with Sarah Moulton—a down-to-earth pro and pioneer TV chef whom I've gotten to know over the years. (Martha had hand-picked her table mates.)

But the main attraction was the lunch and the celebrated women who created it. Ariane Daguin, founder and owner of D'Artagnan, a leading purveyor of foie gras and other delicacies, served the appetizer course: Assiette des Trois Foies Gras. Daguin was previously the chef-owner of Hotel de France in Auch, Gascony and started her company to fill a void in the high-end dining segment in America. She has since grown D'Artagnan into the go-to source for chefs around the country.

The next course was one of the richest to ever touch my lips—Butter Soup with shellfish, honey emulsion and caviar, created by Barbara Lynch, chef-owner of several Boston restaurants, including Menton, Sportello and No. 9 Park. Lynch is CEO of Barbara Lynch Gruppo; she oversees eight concepts and employs over 200 people. She's also a phenomenal chef. Lynch sourced the butter from a cow she owns that lives on a Vermont farm. The soup tasted so buttery when you swallowed a spoonful, but it was so well balanced with seafood and other ingredients, the butter was not over the top.

On the other hand, I was already feeling over the top, but there were two more courses and dessert to come. Gabrielle Hamilton, chef-owner of Prune restaurant in NYC, made a seasonally perfect Grilled Marinated Quail with Shaved Rhubarb, Black Mint and Sicilian Pistachios. The dish was beautiful, bountiful and wonderful. The feisty, energetic Hamilton not only runs a top-rated restaurant, she is a bestselling author of the 2010 memoir Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.

Now we were just about bursting, but out came a huge copper pot filled with Pan-Roasted Berkshire Pork Loin sided by Ratte Potatoes, Barigoule Artichokes, Spring Onions and Chanterelles. The loin was sliced into gigantic golden-brown chops and plated with confit of pork belly, roasting jus and garlic. Helene Darroze, chef-owner of Helene Darroze Paris and helene Darroze at The Connaught, London, created the porky feast. This French-born chef has cooked for world leaders Jacques Chirac and Helmut Kohl and today she was cooking for me! Wish I had a doggy bag to take back to the office.

Just to let you know, my usual lunch is a salad or open-face grilled cheese sandwich and diet Coke at my desk. No wines paired with every course. But this was a not-to-be-missed gathering of powerful women serving up incredible food and conversation. I had to be pulled away from my computer by brute force to attend, but it was so worth it.

And by the way, it's still pretty much a man's world out there in the industry. Women may own almost half the restaurants, but men wield most of the power in the kitchen and front-of-the-house. The four successful females who served me lunch in June—and the accomplished women who hosted each table—are leading the way to change that dynamic. All are excellent role models for the generation that's coming up the ranks.

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