Chef Polly Smith of Necessary Catering had rarely worked with another Black female chef in a Kansas City-area restaurant. However, after Chef Natasha Ellington of Café Jo’el contacted her about joining other Black women chefs in a fundraiser supporting victims of domestic violence, Smith says she not only found a way to support others, she found a support group for herself. She now has a network of other Black female chefs who all have similar experiences in the food industry.
“We have the Black experience, we have the woman experience, and we also have the Black woman chef experience,” said Ellington. “We all have the same story of being isolated in a workplace, misunderstood, looked over, working hard for someone else, getting passed up for opportunities.”
“I never knew any of (the other Black women chefs) until (Ellington) called me,” said Smith. “I will tell you now, I will push someone out of the way for any one of them.”
Ellington, who has more than 20 years of experience in the food industry is also on the board of directors for Giving Yourself Real Love (GYRL), a nonprofit dedicated to bring awareness to domestic violence and mentoring survivors of domestic violence.
It was her idea to combine her support for Black female chefs and victims of domestic violence into a unique fundraising event that would benefit both.
She created the “What About Me? She Blazes Dining Experience” highlighting eight local Black women chefs, each cooking a dish for the eight-course meal taking place Wed., April 28, at 7 p.m. at Soiree Steak and Oyster House in the 18th and Vine Jazz District.
The event will also have wine from Black women-owned businesses Jenny Dawn Cellars and Godly Fine Wines, live music, cocktails and a silent auction featuring products from local businesses and chef services.
Tickets for She Blazes are $150 each and available for purchase on the gyrlplease.org website.
While many of the chefs are receiving donated ingredients, each chef will be reimbursed up to $150 for their dish ingredients with the rest of the proceeds benefitting GYRL.
“Not only are we allowed to finally showcase our talent and our skill, but we get to present ourselves first,” said Ellington. “We get to put ourselves in the front and not hide behind these corporate names.”
Many of the chefs participating in the fundraiser work or have worked in a corporate restaurant setting, but also have their own catering businesses.
Before, she began planning “She Blazes,” Ellington also said she only knew of a few Black women chefs. Through her research for the fundraiser, she found a total of ten in Kansas City.
“There are not very many of us,” said Ellington. “You can get deterred in this industry, and it’s not for the faint of heart.”
The topic of the dining experience, “What About Me?” brings awareness to unseen Black women and girls affected by domestic violence and mental health issues, which GYRL is working to address.
According to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research’s Status of Black Women in the United States, more than 40% of Black women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and Black women are 2.5 times more likely to be murdered by men than White women.
“Domestic violence plagues our community and we need to stand up and have our voices heard,” said Ellington. “Women are always excluded and in the food industry, we get left out of that conversation too. It’s just time that we did something like this, collectively, as Black women who can support each other, lean on each other and do something for a good cause.”
Chef Robyn Buckley of She Kan Cook, who is cooking course three for the dining experience, said she sees this as a great opportunity to support GYRL and give back to the community. “Now’s the time to start giving back and be a positive inspiration to other women,” she said.
To see the menu and the other Black women chefs participating, visit: www.gyrlplease.org, click on GYRL What About Me on the site’s toolbar.
Purchase tickets for the event here: https://www.gyrlplease.org/sheblazestickets
Jazzlyn Johnson is a Report for America corps member based at The Community Voice covering Kansas City’s African-American community