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New Las Vegas Organization Promises to Open Doors for Women Chefs

January 8, 2020

Original content: Eater Las Vegas

A new Las Vegas-based organization plans to bring together female restaurant industry mentors with newcomers to help them navigate the hospitality world. Elizabeth Blau of Blau + Associates and restaurants such as Honey Salt and Buddy V’s Ristorante and Mary Choi Kelly of MCK Leadership Talent Group co-founded the Women’s Hospitality Initiative that kicks off its efforts with a screening of the documentary A Fine Line followed by nibbles and networking with some of the powerful women chefs of Las Vegas.

A head shot of a woman
Elizabeth Blau | Women’s Hospitality Initiative [Official Site]

“I feel like we have to do something,” Blau says. “The city is ready for this. This is a time for men and women to work together. There is no one to blame here. We need to solve a problem.”

A head shot of a woman
Mary Choi Kelly | Women’s Hospitality Initiative [Official Site]

The nonprofit organization cites statistics that show that while more than 50 percent of graduating culinary students are women, women represent fewer than 7 percent of executive chefs or restaurant owners. The organization hopes to educate and train women starting in high school and then college, all the way to those already in the business to build a pipeline of future potential women chefs.

“Our goal is to achieve gender equity here in Las Vegas and we have already seen our community galvanizing around these efforts in an extraordinary way,” Blau says. 

The February 18 kickoff event brings the first Las Vegas screening of A Fine Line, director Joanna James’ documentary that looks at the gender gap in the culinary industry, at the Judy Bayley Theatre on the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus starting at 5:00pm.

“Considering the influence Las Vegas has on the hospitality industry, it’s my hope that this screening will spark a local movement amplifying permanent change needed industry wide. This screening event has the potential to truly create a level playing field for all women to tap into their full potential,” James says in a press statement. James interviews top chefs including Dominique Crenn, Cat Cora, Elena Arzak, Mashama Bailey, Lidia Bastianich, and April Bloomfield in the film.

Afterward, an interactive panel of women from the restaurant field takes the stage, followed by a culinary celebration at UNLV’s Hospitality Hall with food and drink from Lorena Garcia of Chica, Gina Marinelli of La Strega, Jennifer Murphy of Caesars Palace, and Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Border GrillTickets start at $30 for UNLV students, $60 for general admission, and $100 for VIP attendees.

So far, founding sponsors for the Women’s Hospitality Initiative include Wynn Las Vegas, the Venetian, Southern Wine & Glazers, Sysco, the Elaine Wynn Family Foundation, Solus Sustainable Hydration, Steelite, and State Restaurant Equipment. Founding members include Philippa Fryman from the Venetian and Palazzo, Jolene Mannina at Secret Burger, Amy Rossetti at Rossetti Public Relations, Arlene Wszalek at Allied Global Marketing, and Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger at Border Grill. The board includes co-founder of Mirage Resorts and Wynn Resorts Elaine Wynn, CEO and co-founder of Paragon Gaming Diana Bennett, former Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones Blackhurst, Moonridge Group philanthropic advisor Julie Murray, president of Wynn Las Vegas Marilyn Spiegel, executive director of the Elaine P. Wynn & Family Foundation Punam Mathur, dean of the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV Stowe Shoemaker, former UNLV president Don Snyder, general partner and CEO of the newly formed JC Hospitality that recently acquired the Hard Rock Hotel Richard Bosworth, 50 Eggs founder John Kunkel, and Michael Severino of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Blau promises more events and educational opportunities will be announced following the kickoff.

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