Dominica Rice-Cisneros Wants to Lift Up Women Chefs

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Cosecha chef-owner Dominica Rice-Cisneros. - BERT JOHNSON/FILE
  • Bert Johnson/File
  • Cosecha chef-owner Dominica Rice-Cisneros.

Word is only now starting to trickle out about the presentations at the MAD Symposium, a gathering of the world’s foremost chefs, farmers, and other food-world luminaries, which took place last week in Copenhagen, Denmark. The broad theme of this year’s symposium was “Tomorrow’s Kitchen,” and the select group of culinary leaders who attended were asked to consider questions such as, “What do we hope our kitchens will be like in the future?”

Dominica Rice-Cisneros, chef-owner of Oakland’s Cosecha (907 Washington St.), kept coming back to the same answer: In the future, she hopes to see more women running restaurant kitchens — and, even more importantly, to see those women getting the personal and professional support they need.

At last week’s conference in Copenhagen, Rice-Cisneros led a small-group discussion panel about the challenges that women in the restaurant industry face, using data provided by the Restaurant Opportunities Center, a national nonprofit that advocates on behalf of restaurant workers, as a jumping-off point. Of particular note: the lack of affordable childcare and the way that shifting restaurant schedules — with some 40 percent of restaurant workers in one survey saying that their schedule changes every week — have a disproportionate impact on restaurant workers who are mothers, many of whom are also immigrants and/or people of color who already face a variety of other obstacles.

Indeed, Rice-Cisneros said this is why a lot of female cooks wind up taking a step back from their careers when they have kids, perhaps working as personal chefs instead of pursuing more prestigious executive chef positions.

At her own restaurant, Rice-Cisneros said she has a lot of cooks who have kids and only work day shifts — and she doesn’t force them to work overtime. She left the MAD Symposium with a commitment to encourage other successful restaurateurs to support and mentor their female cooks: to provide them steady schedules and childcare vouchers, and to help them take the next step toward running their own restaurants. A couple of concrete ideas: providing free English classes to immigrant cooks and introducing young female restaurateurs to farmers and other purveyors that they might not know.  

Rice-Cisneros credits her own daughter for insisting that she go home from Cosecha at 4 p.m. three days a week, allowing her to spend that time to do the “regular mother-daughter thing.” It has been a huge benefit to her own work-life balance — and it’s something she’d like to help other women in the industry find as well. 

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