New Orleans Female Chefs Moving the Restaurant & Hospitality Scene Forward
In honor of International Women's Day, the LRA spotlights female chefs who have risen the ranks with the male cohort, and cemented their names into New Orleans culinary history.
Chef Zoe Chase
Chef Zoe Chase has been in the kitchen her entire life, that of her family, Dooky Chase's Restaurant. She grew up earnestly watching and learning from her great grandmother, Executive Chef Emeritus Chef Leah Chase. The passion for food & hospitality led Chase to enroll in culinary school at New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute. Under the guidance of her Uncle Edgar "Dook" Chase IV (Executive Chef and Leah's grandson), Zoe is currently a sous chef at Dooky Chase's Restaurant and is next in line to take the helm of their historied family restaurant. Tune into WYES-New Orleans on April 29 at 10 am to see her debut on their new series "The Dooky Chase Kitchen: Leah's Legacy."
Chef Bergen Carman
Meril is home to Chef de Cuisine Bergen Carman. Once the pastry chef at Emeril's Delmonico with nothing but her love of food and her new English degree from LSU, Bergen fell in love with the energy of the kitchen from day one. Her dedication to hospitality has moved her to the top of the ranks at Emeril's sister restaurant in the Warehouse District.
Chef Meg Bickford
Executive Chef Meg Bickford at Commander's Palace has carved herself into the idea of what diners know as "haute Creole cuisine." She landed at the Garden District restaurant after graduating from Chef John Folse Culinary Institute in 2008. For nearly a decade, she worked every position in the kitchen until she was named Executive Chef in 2020. Today, she's putting her own identity into Cajun & Creole dishes made classic by the late Chef Paul Prudhomme.
Chef Haley Bitterman
Corporate Executive Chef Haley Bitterman is stationed at Brennan's Restaurant on Royal Street, but her expert eye oversees the culinary program for the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group. A native of Cincinnati, she has called New Orleans home since the first moment working an externship at Mr.B's Bistro. Haley then helped open Ralph Brennan's BACCO, a Northern Italian restaurant in the French Quarter (since closed), and a few years after it's opening, landed the Executive Chef position there. Today, she has her hand in every kitchen of all the Ralph Brennan restaurants.
Chef Nina Compton
Chef Nina Compton at Compere Lapin was catapulted into the loving arms of New Orleanians after her stint on Bravo's Top Chef: New Orleans. The St. Lucia native had been in Miami as Executive Chef at Scarpetta, and then The Villa Casa Casuarina, when she decided to compete on the reality show. Taking home second place and the fan favorite award, Compton settled in the Warehouse District with the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery and Compère Lapin, responding to New Orleans' rich creole history that she identified with being from the Caribbean. Since, she has earned the James Beard Award for "Best Chef of the South," among other accolades. Compton's empire expanded with Bywater American Bistro, and continues with an upcoming fast-casual spot inside the soon-to-be Caesars Hotel.
Chef Aom Srisuk
Chef Aom Srisuk opened Pomelo last year on Magazine Street. Her boutique Thai restaurant honors her roots where she grew up in Thailand running her family's restaurants, and met the love her life--her husband Frankie who runs the business with her. Needless to say, Thailand holds a special place in chef's heart, and she loves sharing her authentic family recipes with New Orleans. Pomelo has since become a neighborhood fixture. She was working in the kitchen at Cho Thai, and then Saffron before opening a place of her own.
Chef Meg Forman
Executive Chef Meg Forman owns and operates Gracious Bakery. Her love for all things sweet inspired her to enroll at the New England Culinary Institute. She was the pastry chef at Bayona Restaurant for six years. Since 2012, Gracious Bakery has grown into multiple locations, and even entered the retail market with at-home kingcake kits.
Chef Martha Wiggins
Executive Chef Martha Wiggins at Cafe Reconcile is building hope and changing lives, one plate at a time. Wiggins helps 16 – 24 years old develop culinary & hospitality skills needed to be successful in today's fast-paced industry, while breathing new life into the dining experience of their cafe. The Washington D.C. native started in New Orleans nearly 20 years ago at the French Quarter spot Sylvain, under Executive Chef Alex Harrell. She soon took over, and then helped open The Hotel Peter & Paul and The Elysian Bar. Now, the Central City establishment is her home away from home.
By Nicole Koster
Chef Serigne Mbaye connects Senegal and New Orleans at his new tasting menu restaurant Dakar Nola
Tasting menus used to be a thing of past, but over the past few years, they’ve made a resurgence. Big cities like New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. are breathing new life into a style of dining that once seemed confining. That’s exactly what Chef Serigne Mbaye is doing in New Orleans at Dakar Nola, at just 29 years-old.
Honoring the capital of Senegal, Dakar Nola serves traditional Senegalese cuisine through a seven-course tasting menu (Wednesday nights offer a prix fixe $50, 3-course menu). Mbaye, nominated twice by the James Beard Foundation for Best Emerging Chef, was born in Harlem but lived most of his youth in Senegal, West Africa, where his Mother was born.
“Being nominated twice solidified that the work that we’re doing is important,” Mbaye said. “People want to hear what we have to offer.”
The ‘we’ being business partner Effie Richardson. Born in California to Ghanaian parents, Richardson witnessed Mbaye’s passion while he was working pop-ups at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB). The two connected immediately over food. Now they’re running Dakar Nola like it’s second nature.
Landing in the Crescent City
Mbaye attended culinary school at the former New England Culinary Institute. He decided to return home to Senegal once he graduated to help build a school for orphans in Gambia, with New Orleans mission group Giving Hope.
It was a chance encounter at the airport that changed everything. Cliff Ragan Hall, co-founder of the New Orleans Fish House, was also doing mission work with Giving Hope. The two got to know each other, and Hall offered an olive branch to Mbaye. Through his friend, former Commander’s Palace Executive Chef Tory McPhail, there would be a job waiting for him at the iconic Commander’s Palace. Mbaye accepted the offer.
He worked through every kitchen position at Commander’s in four months until he became the PM Sous Chef at the former Café Adelaide. Then he worked at SoBou, and helped open Picnic, Provisions & Whiskey. Next, he headed to San Francisco to work at 3 Michelin-star restaurant Ateleir Crenn, and then, the former 2 Michelin-star restaurant L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in New York.
He returned to New Orleans and started doing food pop-ups at SOFAB during the pandemic. He collaborated for dinner series with notable New Orleans chefs, like Chef Micheal Gullota of Maypop and Chef Nina Compton of Bywater American Bistro, among many others.
Eventually, he landed as Chef de Cuisine at the popular Mosquito Supper Club. The communal, multi-course tasting menu restaurant gave Mbaye a place to thrive. Chef Melissa Martin encouraged him to use her restaurant as a platform for Dakar Nola.
“I’ve always dreamed of opening a restaurant,” Mbaye said. “Working at the Mosquito Supper Club made me realize how it could be possible.”