Photo: Catharine Abegg
Ryan Ross is a private chef and the founder of Supper Corps, a roving dinner club that pops up in unlikely places. She grew up in rural Virginia, lived in New York City, and now calls the Pacific Northwest her home. In 2015, she won the Food Network reality show, Chopped, beating out three male chefs to take home the $10,000 prize.
How did you find your way into the historically male-dominated culinary industry?
My mother owns an organic health food store in Virginia. She, along with a few other “honorary mamas” (mother’s of life long friends) were always my inspiration in culinary. They were all masters of their domain, all very different styles, and all so very capable and full of power and passion. Their entrepreneurial spirit as home cooks, and my mother as a business owner with her progressive ideas in a conservative world, provided me with a rock solid drive and soul geared towards feeding folks! The balance of being a nurturer and a bad ass is represented perfectly in a kitchen!
What has been a defining moment in your career?
I found myself on an episode of CHOPPED for the Food Network. I flew back to NYC to film and I competed and won! I was the only woman among my competitors. My experience was overall positive. I have been the only woman in many culinary-male-centric situations (locked in a walk-in, being called degrading names, equipment being hid from me, not offered the same pay, etc.). I think they thought these pranks would get a rise out of me, proving their dominance. They wanted to make me “feel like a woman.”
So I had to decide what that was going to mean to me, and for all the woman that would walk into those kitchens after me. I was not going to get through all those times with ego alone. Reacting with the one-note anger, embarrassment or humiliation is not what I ever saw from the ladies in my life. I saw strength, nurturing, hardness, softness, empathy, and creativity represented by women, especially in the kitchen.
So now, as a woman in my early 30’s, with a camera in my face for the whole nation to see, a 16 hour day, jet lagged, 3 men against me, in a highly competitive atmosphere, egged on by producers, judges and hosts, I knew how to let all of my womanliness shine through..and with a shit ton of grace:)
What advice do you have for other women trying to build culinary careers?
- Offer what you love to cook, you will always do that best.
- Talk money! It is not weird to know the worth of your work and ask for it.
- Take care of yourself and hire people that you want to be around.
- Never stop learning. Seek out mentors. Love and support other women in your field.
- Find calm. We have this one body, and it is our vessel to carry us through life. We gotta nurture ourselves so we can keep having all the fun!;)