Working Women Reflect
on Santa Barbara
Food and Drink Careers
Cherry Bombe Co-Hosts Taste of Santa Barbara’s
Showcase of Female Hospitality Stars
By Anna Ferguson-Sparks | May 11, 2023
Read all of our Taste of Santa Barbara 2023 stories here.
In a wine region with one of the highest per capita concentrations of women winemakers, could Santa Barbara County’s food scene eventually follow suit?
“Food is democratic,” explains Sandra Adu Zelli, owner of Gipsy Hill Bakery in Santa Barbara. “But we still have a long way to go to be equal.”
She’s one of nine working women speaking at May 20’s Cherry Bombe x Taste of Santa Barbara event, which will explore the paths being paved by women through Santa Barbara’s burgeoning culinary landscape. Also speaking are Acme Hospitality founder Sherry Villanueva; Camins 2 Dreams winemakers/owners Tara Gomez and Mireia Taribó; sea urchin diver Stephanie Mutz, founder of Sea Stephanie Fish; rancher Elizabeth Poett, star of Magnolia Network’s Ranch to Table; Daisy Ryan, chef/co-owner of Bell’s and Companion Hospitality; and Rhoda Magbitang, the executive chef at The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern.
Coming out from Brooklyn to moderate the afternoon is Kerry Diamond, who founded the Cherry Bombe media company in 2013 to celebrate women and creatives in the world of food and drink. Her eyes were opened to “how women were treated like second-class citizens” in the food and drink industry when she became a restaurant owner a dozen years ago. While working as a journalist and in the corporate realms of fashion, beauty, and public relations for brands like Harper’s Bazaar, Coach, and Lancôme, Diamond took on co-ownership of several Brooklyn eateries, including the award-winning Smith Canteen coffee shop, which operated from 2011 to 2019.
Inherently familiar with modern media and its intersection with the food world, Diamond said that the one woman she admires most is domestic media-maven Martha Stewart. “She was so self-made,” said Diamond. “She created an incredible empire from scratch, without a blueprint. Martha really paved the way for women in media, and projects like Cherry Bombe.”
But it was another female food-world powerhouse who would ultimately connect Diamond to Santa Barbara: the inimitable Julia Child. During the production of Cherry Bombe magazine’s Julia Child–themed issue in 2021, and the subsequent virtual event called “The Julia Jubilee,” Diamond learned about Child’s love for living on the American Riviera. Diamond also hosts and produces Dishing on Julia, the companion podcast for the HBO Max series Julia.
Those experiences cemented Diamond’s interest in the dynamic growth of Santa Barbara’s food scene and led to multiple collaborations with the Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and the Culinary Arts. That foundation is the umbrella for the Santa Barbara Culinary Experience, which puts on Taste of Santa Barbara under the guidance of executive director Donna Yen, who worked with Diamond at both Yahoo! Food and Cherry Bombe.
“Donna assembled such varied industry representatives for the panel,” said Diamond of the May 20 event. “I’m excited to put the food and wine to faces.”
After the discussion, the event will conclude with networking over nibbles prepared by Rhoda Magbitang, the executive chef at Mattei’s Tavern, who hails from the Philippines. She arrived at the Auberge-developed property after working at Chateau Marmont and Petit Ermitage in Hollywood and at numerous José Andrés institutions in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. But Magbitang waxes most poetic about her time at the original West 3rd Street location of Suzanne Goin and Caroline Styne’s AOC.
“I did an unpaid externship at Mélisse [Michelin-starred chef Josiah Citrin’s Santa Monica restaurant] right out of culinary school — it was a fairly intense kitchen,” said Magbitang, who took a brief sabbatical and then started at AOC. “It was all women on the line,” she recalled. “I felt like that’s where I thrived, working for so many powerful female figures — it was such a revelation. That was where I found my home in the kitchen and felt more confident in myself. I learned that in cooking, things don’t have to be so uptight or regimented to be so successful.”
Adu Zelli similarly started on a more formal route through restaurant kitchens. A British expat, she met the likes of Michelin-starred chef Tom Kerridge, then at England’s Great Fosters Hotel; Jun Tanaka at Pearl, now chef/owner of The Ninth in London; and pastry chef Jane Huffer Smyth, who taught her to take pride in her practices. But it was Yotam Ottolenghi who made Adu Zelli also realize that cooking “doesn’t have to be a regimented system.”
“I had been a very old-school chef prior to working with Ottolenghi,” said Adu Zelli. “Before the Internet, a chef’s world was harder when it came to inspiring creativity. We really only had books to comb through, to see what others were doing and what was possible.” And what seemed possible — at least until somewhat recently — only appeared to apply to men in the industry.
I think every woman should have a blowtorch.
Diamond agreed that the media has helped to spotlight, empower, and expose the talents of women in the food and drink industry in ways that have fortified their place in the traditionally male-driven industries. “But a decade or so ago, media glorified the male chef,” she cautioned. “Quite frankly, that was part of the problem.”
For Magbitang, the work itself is a leveling factor. “Females have asserted themselves in different ways everywhere, but we still thrive on meritocracy in cooking,” she explained. “What sets people apart in the kitchen is that they’re just good at their job. When you’re cooking, you can’t bullshit your way out of things. You either have it or you don’t.”
Cherry Bombe x Taste of Santa Barbara takes place Saturday, May 20, 3-5:30 p.m., at The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern (2350 Railway Ave., Los Olivos). Tickets are $100. Ages 21+.
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