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#GirlsWithKnives Spotlight: Chef-Instructor Sam Pagan

After graduating from the National Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts, Sam Pagan worked long hours in kitchens and bakeries of New York City. Frustrated by continual sexism and harassment in the industry, she decided to combine her love of food with a passion for teaching. She is now the city program manager and lead chef instructor for The Sylvia Center, a New-York based initiative that empowers young people to cook and eat healthfully.

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What has been a defining moment in your culinary career?

Going from male-dominated kitchens to food organizations operated by women. I do my best to keep a balanced and diverse staff and to lead with kindness. Restaurants are hard work, and sometimes that crunch for time and money can lead to unhealthy relationships in the workplace. Being able to teach the next generations of chefs is so rewarding because you can address those hardships in the classroom, and make a point to be sure those we’re instructing can manage those issues once out in the field on their own.

Which ladies serve up culinary inspiration in your life?

Moms. Especially those who cook on with limited budgets and resources. The best tasting (and feeling) food I’ve ever had has come from mothers who think on their feet, use what they have, and always make sure there’s enough to go around. These women also tend to have such a strong sense of community, and are always sure that no one in their home or community goes hungry.

What advice do you have for other women trying to build culinary careers?

Go your own way. There’s no rule book for building your culinary career. Be sure to align yourself with work and missions that speak to you, and from there you will be able to build on your own experiences and skills.

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