Part of COOKGIRL’s mission is to build THE LIST of amazingly talented women who are making it happen in the culinary world. Through our Market Projects (The Chicago Project, The San Francisco Project and now The Los Angeles Project), COOKGIRL has gone market to market to dig in to the list of iconic chefs that were part of the original 100 on THE LIST and take nominations and recommendations for women deserving of the spotlight.
As we wrap up The Los Angeles Project, THE LIST of talent in Southern California is an testament to the unique, powerful, smart, cool, terrific projects that are being headed by, supported by and created by women. COOKGIRL is thrilled to reveal GROUP 1……Cook On!
Described as Zoe Nathan’s “culinary lieutenant” that includes a writing credit in the amazing cookbook Huckleberry, Laurel Almerinda is ready for the spotlight. With Nathan as her mentor, Laurel has participated in the deliciousness served regularly at Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry and now the newly opened Cassia, which is a partnership between Chef Bryant Ng and Kim Luu-Ng, Zoe Nathan and her husband Josh Loeb. With her colleague Charlotte Doimo-Mueller, this is an exciting time for Laurel.
Top Chef Alum Nyesha Arrington opened her first restaurant, Leona, in Venice, CA in late July. Described as “progressive California cuisine”, the menu is seasonal and globally inspired. Included in the menu are dishes inspired by multiple cultures, including the Korean Bulgogi Braised Short Rib her mother made.
She graduated from the Culinary School at the Art Institute of Los Angeles in 2001 and went to work for Josiah Citrin at Melisse in Santa Monica and later Joel Robuchon’s L’Atelier and The Mansion in Las Vegas. She was recognized as a rising star while at Wilshire Restaurant, including being named one of 30 under 30 by Zagat.
Nyesha is passionately engaged in the community and gives generously of her time and talent to Share our Strength, Plate by Plate for Project by Project and Destin Charity Wine Auction, to name a few.
Top Chef Alum Shirley Chung plays with California flavors and cuisines from all over the world for inventive, joyful modern Chinese cooking at TWENTY EIGHT in Orange County, CA. Her thesis is that cuisine should have no borders.
She has worked closely with other chefs to create unique experiences outside of her restaurant such as a Top Chef Duo Dinner with Nina Compton in February and the widely acclaimed Co+Lab Dinner spearheaded by Chef Melissa King in August. Before Top Chef, Shirley was the Executive Chef for China Poblano by Jose Andres which was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2011 during her tenure.
Nina Curtis is the Executive Chef at The Ranch at Live Oak / Malibu, the acclaimed seven-day fitness and wellness bootcamp. She has had a 17 year journey with a vegan lifestyle – raw and not. Nina’s background includes a classically trained chef father who was not entirely convinced of the merits of her culinary pursuit into the healing power of food. Cut to the raves Nina received as she served 400 LIVE VEGAN TACOS at the 2013 Los Angeles Food & Wine festival, with her father by her side grinning with pride.
With years of experience in food as well as skincare - and a calm, spiritual demeanor that is simultaneously electrifying - Nina is an excellent guide for the guests at The Ranch, where she gives lectures, presentations and demonstrations on health, nutrition and whole foods. She oversees The Ranch's kitchen and works in conjunction with The Ranch's garden to develop seasonal and gorgeous garden-to-table recipes that are key to the experience at The Ranch.
Previously, she was the Kitchen Manager and Chef at The Springs Restaurant and Wine Bar, a vegan restaurant in Los Angeles. A graduate of Pepperdine University, Curtis was also trained at Living Light Culinary Institute, Trinity School of Natural Health and Natural Gourmet Culinary Institute. In addition to her culinary expertise, Curtis is a licensed esthetician, certified Kemetic yoga instructor, aromatherapist, iridologist, reflexologist, and is also the founder of The Nile Institute, a holistic skincare and wellness practice.
Charlotte Doimo-Mueller is a key part of Team Zoe Nathan and works tirelessly to create the beautiful desserts that are on the menu at, especially of note, the newly-opened-to-rave-reviews Cassia. A partnership between Zoe Nathan and her husband Josh Loeb with Chefs Bryant Ng and Kim Luu-Ng, Cassia is an opportunity for Charlotte to showcase her talents. Time for the spotlight on this super talented chef: from the strawberry, cherry napoleon to the summer fruit floating island to vietnamese coffee pudding made from coconut shortbread. #delicious
Akasha Richmond’s dedication to health and ingredients started during her time in India and extended while she was working at The Golden Temple, a vegetarian restaurant where she discovered her passion for cooking. At the time, many celebrities frequently dined at The Golden Temple, which lead to being a personal chef for many bold-faced names in Hollywood, including Michael Jackson, who essentially launched her career as a professional chef.
Richmond has a rich knowledge of the curative effect of ingredients and as a personal chef in her early career, Richmond was called upon time and again to bring health and wellness into people’s diets. At the time she says, “No one was really doing it - making really delicious food that was healthy, sometimes vegetarian, but focused on healing the body.” She published her first cookbook, Hollywood Dish, in 2006.
Her popularity as a sought-after caterer in Los Angeles led to the opening of her flagship AKASHA restaurant. It was there that she first experienced the conflict with men in the kitchen, which was shocking mostly because she was the executive chef/owner. It took her years to get the right team, but talent shines through and creativity has won out.
Akasha, with the success of her first restaurant and the opening of Sāmbār in May, is dedicated to balance in her life and incorporates exercise - swimming, pilates, walking - into her day. She mentioned what comes up again and again - that drinking for most chefs is what can really cause havoc in their lives - and really understands from her early days the importance of a positive rhythm in your life.
Sāmbār opened next door to AKASHA and has reimagined what Indian food can be. Even the bar program incorporates spices like turmeric in an inventive way. “There’s a very happening food scene in India,” she says, “I’ve had my mind set on opening a restaurant with an ‘Indianish’ menu that incorporates Indian spices and flavors from India as well as utilizing the abundance of fruits and vegetables grown in California.”
It’s food inspired by home-cooked meals served by Indian families with a nod to street food - as well as those dishes that might be served at an ashram. Delicious and inventive….and super healthy.
Akasha gives generously of her time and talent to organizations including Share Our Strength, Environmental Media Association, Common Threads and Pediatric Aids.
After graduating from Arizona Culinary Institute in 2003, Jennifer Toomey worked in several kitchens before becoming a lead chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, the world’s largest hospitality education. She has also been a Chef Instructor at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of California and is currently working with The New School of Cooking. From August 2015 (except for a brief stint at Superba that wasn’t the right fit), she has worked up the ranks of Zoe Nathan’s Milo + Olive and was named the Chef de Cuisine in August 2015.
Toomey was featured in the August 2015 issue of Food & Wine Magazine for her “Salad of the Month”, a delicious tomato salad with a charred tomato vinaigrette and 6 variations from soppressata + garlic croutons + ricotta + basil and snow peas + scallions + lemon grass + mint. Her salad is featured on the menu at Chef’s Club by Food & Wine in New York. Amazing and delicious!
An alum of Top Chef, Brooke Williamson’s entire life has been about food. Brooke is a native Los Angeleno and earlier in her career worked at Michael’s under executive chef Sang Yoon. She later moved to New York to intern at Daniel before circling back to Los Angeles.
Brooke Williamson was the youngest female chef to ever be invited to cook at the James Beard House.
Brooke had early success with the now-shuttered Amuse Cafe and Beechwood in Venice. Moving to Redondo Beach with her chef/husband Nick Roberts, they opened Hudson House (named after her son) in 2009 and The Tripel in Playa Del Rey in 201, serving craft beer and quality food within steps of the Pacific Ocean.
Playa Provisions is their super cool 4-in-1 restaurant venture that seems to be tapping into (if not setting) the trend for a community of restaurants in one space (like The Grove or Helms Bakery District). It is an ambitious foodie destination that includes an ice cream shop Small Batch, a casual market counter for breakfast/lunch King Beach, a hidden-in-the-back whiskey bar Grain and the high-end seafood restaurant Dockside. In 2010, Williamson became certified by The Court of Master Sommeliers (one of 23 women in North America, by the way). Oh, and she just opened Tripli-Kit in The Tripel, a retail store for foodies with cookbooks and kitchenware. Yup, there is simply nothing that she cannot accomplish.
As she told Parade Magazine when asked what career advice she would give an 18-year old, she said “Pay just as much attention to your mistakes as to your accomplishments, because that is the best way to learn.”
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