In the epicenter of fine dining, five-star restaurants, and celebrity chefs, the movement to reshape the culinary landscape and redefine a woman’s role “in the kitchen” has begun.
“If we can create equality and develop more women leaders in Las Vegas, we can be the catalyst for global change,” said Women’s Hospitality Initiative co-founder Elizabeth Blau (Blau + Associates), who chose the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus as the launchpad for the organization’s inaugural campaign to end gender disparity in the hospitality and restaurant industries.
On February 18. the kickoff, an evening of education, conversation, and celebration, began with a sold-out screening of director Joanna James’ acclaimed documentary, A Fine Line, which shines the spotlight on gender disparity and the obstacles aspiring women leaders face.
“The issues we address in this film resonate with so many people who work and live here,” the filmmaker said. “To know that the audience is connecting with A Fine Line means we’ve done our job raising awareness, and to know that it inspired, in any way, the creation of the Women’s Hospitality Initiative, is the greatest reward I could ask for.”
Speaking alongside Blau and Women’s Hospitality Initiative co-founders Mary Choi Kelly (MCK Leadership) and Jolene Mannina (Secret Burger), James hoped her film would serve as a “call to action to see what we can do.”
“Hopefully, we don’t have to continue to face these challenges,” she added. “We shouldn’t be forced to choose between having a baby or having a career.”
Following the screening, Women’s Hospitality Initiative hosted a panel discussion of the film’s subject matter, featuring Chef Mary Sue Milliken (Border Grill), Chef Lorena Garcia (Chica), Valerie James (Val’s Restaurant), Katherine Miller (Impact James Beard Foundation), and Jennifer Murphy (Caesars Entertainment) in attendance; before treating the audience to a culinary celebration featuring over 55 chefs, restaurateurs, sommeliers, mixologists, and more at the Harrah College of Hospitality.
“To see more than 500 attendees and these incredible participants rally together for this extraordinary showing is a testament to our strength as a community,” said Blau. “We needed to have this conversation to bring these issues top of mind, but actions are always louder than words, and the momentum building here tonight will lead to real change.”
As guests made their way through three levels of Hospitality Hall, they were treated to a feast of specially-made dishes and drinks, including contributions from Alyssa Ocampo (Sparrow + Wolf), Angela Ippolito (Lupo By Wolfgang Puck), Juyoung Kang (The Dorsey At The Venetian Resort), Bertha González Nieves (Tequila Casa Dragones), Gina Marinelli (La Strega), Candace Ochoa (Bazaar Meat by José Andrés), Lorena Garcia, Vivian Chang (Michael Mina Las Vegas), Lindsey Geddes, Charlie Palmer Steak), and many more.
Also in attendance: Women’s Hospitality Initiative strategic advisors Diana Bennett (Paragon Gaming), Elaine Wynn and Punam Mathur (Elaine Wynn Family Foundation), Stowe Shoemaker (UNLV), Michael Severino and Ian Staller (Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits), and Julie Murray (Moonridge Group); as well as U.S. Rep. Susie Lee and representatives from the offices of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Rep. Dina Titus.
To bring about real change, Women’s Hospitality Initiative is forming strategic alliances with some of the nation’s premier culinary and women-focused organizations and it has also formed an educational partnership with UNLV that will address gender disparity topics in the classroom.
“Our programs will enable future generations, and the current generation, of aspiring women leaders to have the skills needed to succeed in their industries,” Kelly said. “At the same time, our membership will provide a resource for these women to find mentors, sponsorship, and an education in business and leadership.”
Following the culinary celebration, organizers and attendees took the festivities to The Venetian Resort, for an after party at Spiegelworld’s Atomic Saloon inside the Grand Canal Shoppes.
About Women’s Hospitality Initiative
The Women’s Hospitality Initiative is committed to developing and implementing programs for the women to grow and achieve leadership positions in the restaurant community, and is a component fund of Nevada Community Foundation, an exempt public charity under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, EIN 88-0241420. For more information, please visit https://www.womenshospitalityinitiative.com/