Photo: Yi-Chin Lee, Staff Photographer
Thursday’s “Women in Culinary Arts” luncheon capitalized on two of the season’s biggest trends, though neither had anything to do with fashion: diversity and inclusion.
Both terms were repeated and applauded several times throughout Bank of America’s fourth annual Women’s Leadership Series program, which returned to Asia Society Texas Center and raised a record $220,000.
It makes the case that some trends can be taken straight to the bank, or in this case, empower Houston women to pursue their dreams of owning a business. And for acclaimed culinary star-panelists Christine Ha, winner of “MasterChef U.S.” season three, Jenni Tranweaver of Jenni’s Noodle House and Kiran Verma of Kiran’s, that proof is in the pudding.
Some 200 guests including steering committee members including Mandy Kao, Y. Ping Sun, Nancy C. Allen, Dr. Anne Chao and Kathy Goossen feasted on menu items in tribute to each chef: soba noodle salad (Tranweaver), Tandoor-rubbed chicken breast (Verma) and “Humble Pie” bites, chocolate chunk cookies and panna cotta (Ha).
As luncheon-goers dug into their meals, moderator Vani Rao got down to business.
“Many of you are wondering why I’m up here,” Rao said during her opening remarks. “Well, they needed a professional eater, and I can take all of you down.”
She alluded that the conversation might get a little messy – “We’re going to talk as women do over food; we’re going to talk over each other, and we may talk in parallel” – though the discussion remained civil and inspiring.
Verma spoke about her transition from “Indian mommy” to restaurateur, and battling against assumptions that she was forced to work for financial reasons.
Tranweaver, a former Continental airlines flight attendant, shared that she needed a job after the Sept. 11 attack, when the public stopped flying. “So, I created work for myself. A lot of work.”
And on a lighter note, Ha confirmed that “MasterChef” host and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey is even more uninhibited when the television cameras aren’t rolling. The first-ever blind contestant turned New York Times bestselling author was so sure that her on-camera stint would be short-lived, she only brought a small suitcase with three outfit changes along for the taping, and was coaxed by show producers to go shopping for more clothes.
None in the audience listened more intently than the several dozen female college students sprinkled throughout the crowd. The lesson wasn’t trendy, but timeless: follow your dreams.