About 78 percent of chefs and head cooks are male, according to the Census Bureau’s 2018 data.
But that’s not the case at the Phoenician, where women comprise almost half of the culinary leadership team.
“That’s very uncommon,” said The Phoenician Executive Sous Chef Rebecca Tillman. “This, in turn, generated an idea that why don’t we celebrate that as we only represent 20 percent of the leaders in the industry?”
Thus, the “Fierce Females at The Phoenician” four-part dining series was born.
Fierce Females at the Phoenician takes place once a month at Mowry & Cotton through April and features an all-woman chef lineup serving a community-style, multi-course meal.
“For a majority of our careers, we have been referred to as ‘female chefs’ first and not just ‘chefs,’ as though the guests and general public would automatically assume a chef has to be a male,” said Tillman, the event organizer.
“There is something just fantastic that happens when dynamic women come together to support one another; and if we can also have fun creating great food, that is a bonus.”
The first dinner on Jan. 16 featured Mowry & Cotton Executive Chef Tandy Peterson’s meal, which was themed “around the fire,” inspired by her time growing up in Wyoming.
“I grew up camping, fishing, and a lot of my childhood stories involve a Dutch oven or an open fire,” Peterson said.
Before guests were seated, though, they were treated to glasses of champagne and a custom cocktail in the bar, as well as three passed hors d’oeuvres, including charred octopus with chiltepin barbecue, smoked mushroom soup and a smoky elk tartare with ginger and mustard seeds.
Once guests were seated in the private room, Peterson preceded each dish with either a behind-the-scenes detailing of how she made the dish or a personal story.
“We would raid [my mom’s] cookbook stash... and we would study all day. We got to make whatever, and she would go out on Saturdays and purchase [all the ingredients] for us. It was a lot of fun to be able to do that, and it inspired me as a kid to love cooking. It was very much a family event,” Peterson said.
Each course was served family-style and paired with either red or white wine or a custom cocktail.
The wines were hand-selected by J&G Steakhouse Beverage Director Taylor Chandler from the property’s cellar, which houses 3,000 to 4,000 different labels.
The rest of Peterson’s menu consisted of butter lettuce with snap pea, grapefruit, pistachios, barbecue onions, and lemon vinaigrette; charcoal tortellini with corn, chistorra, and arugula; black code with finger lime, bone marrow, vegetable ash; grilled cabbage with smoked cashew, goat cheese, and kumquat; and, for dessert, ember roasted pear with Cream-o-wheat, lavender, and huckleberry.
While the highlight of the evening for the 20-or-so guests was, undoubtedly, the food, Peterson said the highlight for her was connecting with the guests.
“We, as chefs, love to cook, and we want to make people happy; all too often the reaction piece is not conveyed back to the kitchen. Since it is a small group and a custom event all of us chefs were able to hear in-the-moment reactions, and that is what makes it all worth it,” Peterson said.
Coming up, chef Michelle Milz will treat guests to a meal on Feb. 20.
Chef Ashley Liane will craft a seasonally inspired meal on March 19.
And, the final meal takes place on April 16 with Tillman.
“As a female who has been in this industry for nearly 20 years, I can honestly say that this is the first property I have been a part of where a large part of the leadership team was female,” said Tillman.
Tillman previously worked for Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort in Phoenix, The American Club in Wisconsin and Arizona Biltmore, among other properties.
Peterson had a similar experience working in the industry.
“I almost didn’t get my job at Bink-ley’s because they were like, ‘You’re a girl, and you’re going to cry.’ But they gave me a chance, and I was the only woman working for their kitchen for a very long time,” she said.
According to Tillman, the Fierce Females event is intended to not only celebrate the patrons who support the Phoenician’s culinary team, but also recognize the incredible culinary talent in Phoenix — an increasing number of whom are female.
“I hope they walked away saying, ‘Man, those are really awesome people we ate with, and those women are really talented chefs,’” Peterson added. “All too often we are referred to as ‘women chefs.’
"We just want to be chefs that are awesome and being a woman has its own narrative.”