Editor’s note: Women Making an Impact is a series of articles that highlights successful women in the industry. If you would like to nominate someone for recognition please send submissions to Kristen Santoro at [email protected].
Kathy Casey, a celebrity chef, mixologist and pioneer in the bar-chef movement, has played a key role in bringing Northwest cuisine and women chefs to national prominence as one of the first female executive chefs in the United States. “I always loved to cook, ever since I was very young,” says Casey. “Food is such a creative medium and I enjoyed making people happy.”
A savvy spotter of what's hot in the culinary and cocktail scene, Casey is a frequent TV and radio guest and speaker on trends. But it wasn’t always easy Casey explains in a recent interview. There was a lot to overcome, yet she conquered the hardships and is now one of the most sought after expert minds in the culinary and mixology industry.
Nightclub & Bar spoke with Casey of Liquid Kitchen to find out more about her journey and the advice she would give to young women trying to make a name for themselves in the industry.
What were some of the struggles you faced at the beginning of your career in this male dominated field?
I was one of the first female executive chefs in the U.S. and I was very young at the time. Being young and being a woman was very difficult. When I first started cooking, it was almost impossible to get a job in a fine dining restaurant. There weren’t any women in the front of the house – let alone the kitchen.
I was always put in the “pantry” and was never allowed to work on the hot line – until someone called in sick and the chef had me work the station. Even guys who I went out for drinks with after work – who were my friends – did not like me on “their side” of the kitchen.
It was hard work and perseverance that got me to a chef position back then – and I took a lot of crap from my co-workers. I just kept my head down, read a lot, and worked hard. I’m very strong-minded and if you think you can do it – you can! I had one really great chef that was my champion – I am ever grateful for his believing in me.
When and why did you decided to incorporate beverages into your craft?
I saw an opportunity and a gap in the bar: The first thing you get when you are dining at any restaurant is a beverage and why was no one doing something that matched or complimented the food menu? Bringing the sensibilities and ingredients of the kitchen into the bar - it just made sense to me. I always liked experimenting with drinks and so I started to create beverage menus for restaurants along with food menus.
What is your favorite part of what you do and why?
I love the creative process. Every day, I go to work and have something new to work on. Just when you think you could have “done everything” or are struggling for that new idea there is something that pops up to inspire a new creation or innovation. Having such a fantastic team to work with makes it great to come in every day and there is nothing like a great brainstorming session!
I love seeing that cocktails and beverages have become so exciting and that bartenders/mixologists everywhere have embraced the craft of the cocktail.
But one of my favorite parts of what we do is hotel and concept bar openings (all over the world!): teaching people to be great at what they do, going through that sometimes hard first night of service, and then later on, getting an email or text thanking me for what I taught them. All that makes it worth it.
What advice would you give to women trying to make a name for themselves in this industry?
I would say to women in the industry, be it kitchen or bar: follow your dream, and work harder than everyone else around you. Be full of passion and constantly learn and create. Don’t get discouraged by naysayers; be strong and be a leader. Take initiative and always be forward thinking–one step ahead. Volunteer to help or get involved anywhere you can just to learn more. And most of all, find a great mentor that will share with you. Lastly, network, network, network!