By Lee Musho
Elle Simone Scott, a culinary producer and food stylist, is the first black woman on America’s Test Kitchen. She is also the founder of SheChef, a culinary mentorship and networking community for women of color and their allies. So far, SheChef has over 1,000 members. This interview has been condensed for clarity.
How did you fall in love with food?
Like most people I started cooking with my grandma and her sisters, prepping for holidays…in my heart of hearts I knew I was going to play a matriarch role in my family and I wanted to know what that looked like, what that sounded like, how it was maintained.
Before food, you used to work as a social worker. What attracted you to social work?
I really love building resources and teaching people how to build their own. Becoming more self-sufficient is extremely important to me, especially in the black community. I think autonomy is the greatest gift, to be able to figure out a way to solve your problem or at least recognize that there is one, and start with a plan, even if the plan is to make a plan. That’s why I started SheChef, because it’s a little bit of social work and a little bit of culinary. It’s almost as if my culinary self decided to move in with my social work self and start a family.
Is SheChef something you wish you had access to?
It was definitely born because I didn’t see any representation in the industry and I think representation is important to the success of any person. You have to physically see yourself there to to know that it’s attainable. I wanted SheChef to do that, to put women chefs of color to the forefront.
We’re here to help you be successful, even if it’s just to allow you to stand out, to give you the notion that you take up space and we are here and have already done it. I’m not the first African American woman on America’s Test Kitchen just for the sake of saying so, I’m saying it so that there won’t have to be another first, and there won’t be a reason for there not to be a second or fifth or tenth.
Are there any challenges in the food industry you’ve faced that you’ve seen a lot of women face as well?
One of the challenges that happens with most women of non-European descent is that they get pigeonholed into ethnic cooking or cooking within certain cultural guidelines. Because a woman is Chinese-American doesn’t mean that she desires to only cook Chinese food—that’s not the limit to her skillset. I feel like a lot of women of color get pigeonholed and then it’s assumed they cannot work outside of those parameters.
What advice do you have to women starting out in the industry?
To people who are facing challenges, women especially, don’t allow yourself to just be a statistic or be marginalized. Be a voice. Stand up for what you know is right. Don’t take a backseat to issues. Advocate for yourself, even if that means joining an organization, because you get further together than you do alone. That’s an African proverb by the way.
Anytime we’re attacking areas that aren’t diverse or inclusive, we’re whittling away at the nasty core of a problem. I want every woman coming into the industry to know that it doesn’t matter how small or singular you think your voice is. It’s still a voice and it’s very strong. It can definitely make a difference.