The Kitchen Conference Is Making Culinary Careers More Accessible

Author: Casey Gale       

Kitchen Conference

The Kitchen Conference program included hands-on workshops and engagement boards. (Wini Lao Photography)

The nonprofit Hot Bread Kitchen was founded in 2008 with the goal of creating economic opportunity for women facing barriers to employment through careers in the food industry. Since its creation, the organization has provided training and placed more than 270 women in baking and culinary jobs with 60 employers across New York City. It also has incubated small food businesses that collectively have created 470 jobs. But the organization isn’t stopping there. Hot Bread Kitchen rolled out its inaugural Kitchen Conference on Nov. 4, 2019, at The Wythe Hotel Brooklyn in New York.

Kitchen Conference

DEI facilitator S. Leigh Thompson (from left), Carol Lewis of Food+, and Nicole Taylor of Thrillist, participate in a panel at the Kitchen Conference. (Wini Lao Photography)

What It’s All About

The conference brought together 20 attendees from all levels of food service — such as chefs, educators, advocates, supervisors, and entry-level hourly staff — who were able to connect with Hot Bread Kitchen’s network of hiring partners across New York City, including city officials, media, and HR professionals. Graduates of Hot Bread Kitchen’s culinary training program also were added to the mix for the daylong event that focused on leadership, cultural competency, and job quality across the industry, with sessions like “Harassment, Hazing, and Bullying in the Field: Resources for Workers,” and “Becoming a Better Ally to Women and People of Color.”

“It is difficult, if not impossible, in the course of an average workday, to have meaningful conversations across levels [of employment] about the challenges our industry faces,” Margo Sivin, brand director at Hot Bread Kitchen, said. “Although the industry has moved toward more equitable and inclusive practices, turnover rates for entry-level jobs continue to reflect a lack of job quality and a need for change. … After years of dialogue with our clients and hiring partners, we were inspired to launch our first industry convening for a day of conversations and workshops.”

Why We Like It

To make room for as many voices to be heard as possible, the Kitchen Conference experimented with different session formats. “For the ‘Becoming a Leader’ session, we used a fishbowl format in which all participants were encouraged to join the conversation,” Sivin said. To end the day, the closing plenary summarized lessons learned and gave attendees time to share their most meaningful takeaways. “Only when we bring our diversity to the table, and make space for real dialogue,” Sivin said, “can we create an equitable food service industry and create better workplaces for women, immigrants, and people of color.”

Casey Gale is an associate editor at Convene.

Kitchen Conference

The final panel included Jacqueline Ebanks, executive director at the New York City Commission on Gender Equity (speaking), and diversity expert Luzerne McAllister of PepsiCo fright). (Wini Lao Photography)