Who is She (Chef)?

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.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Cierra Jenkins says:

    I really felt this as i was reading it.May God contuine to bless you on your journey.I wish i could be introduced to you and mentored to so i could learn how to attack the kitchen better.I my self came from poverty and faceing many challenges as a African American but still i raised above it all..
    It inspired me to create my own non profit called::Achieve believe inspire teach( A.B.I.T) COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT GROUP ! It inspired me because i know what is like to not have love and trying to find your way on your own so reaching back and giving those children who come from poverty homes hope and let the know their not alone and anything you dream of you can become!!
    We teach
    1. College/Career/Early Entrepreneurship
    2.leadeership development/mentoring
    3.health and education
    My main reason for sharing is because cooking is one things i want to teach my girls. I think all us ladies should be able to put it down in the kitchen..I absolutely love respect what you are doing!!😍 Helping the next one in line is always the goal🙌!!

  2. Mary Beard says:

    Hello Ms.Elle
    I am a 50 yr.old black female living in Grambling, Louisiana! I love cooking and baking! I have always wanted to have my own dessert shop! I am so inspired by you also! I would like some advice on how you got to where you are! I have Sickle Cell Anemia and when they find that out they discourage me so! Can you please give me some advice on how to move forward with my dream please! 😉😍

  3. Patty Tachera says:

    I am a chef and have been for 47 years. I just want to comment that even tho I am not a woman “of color” white is also a color! I started out in the early 70’s when for all I knew there were extremely few women chefs. I too had to pay my dues in awful ways being mistreated by men chefs, like the time I was hired as the first female cook at Sheraton Kauai and this was 1987! There were of course female “ pantry ladies” but I was the first life male line cook ever! My first week the sous chef didn’t even bother to learn my name and called me “hey” and hit me in the face when I looked away from my ten burner sauté station , with a raw chix breast! I told him “ my name is patty, remember that!” And had to prove myself to the all male kitchen for a few weeks until they all started accepting me as a real cook! It was hell but I did it!!! I would love to be a mentor for any female chefs now!!! Aloha!😘🤗❤️🤙🏼🙄

Leave a Reply to Cierra Jenkins Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s