Rohini Dey is on a mission. While many women enter the culinary field, only a small proportion has achieved the highest levels of leadership or ownership as executive chefs or restaurateurs.
Rohini is out to change that. She is a master networker and built an alliance with Susan Ungaro, the President of the James Beard Foundation, to launch The Women in Culinary Leadership Program in 2012. The core mission is to provide opportunities for women to break through in the culinary world through intensive internships at participating restaurants. In Chicago, COOKGIRL is thrilled that Boka Group, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, One Off Hospitality Group, and Rohini Dey’s own Vermilion are all participating with 6-month or 1-year programs.
“We need to broaden the lens and provide opportunities that demonstrate the many areas available to talented women in the culinary world.” The program is so successful that Rohini was in the process of reading 65 applications for the 1 spot at her Chicago restaurant when we spoke.
COOKGIRL was thrilled to get Rohini’s input on our own COOKGIRL FUND Grant Program. She pointed out that the percentage of women in culinary schools is quite high, but that “women need to get financially and entrepreneurially literate. You must speak the language of owners, vendors, bankers and investors.” She knows what she’s talking about with a Ph.D. in economics and a career as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company before becoming a restaurateur. Her recommendation that one of the COOKGIRL FUND grants focus on providing tuition for business classes to a culinary school student created a shift in one of the grants that COOKGIRL will provide in 2016 (COOKGIRL will start accepting applications this summer).
With the intensity that we share with Rohini Dey in COOKGIRL’s mission to promote talented women, it might surprise you that she is also hilarious with a joie de vivre that makes her thrilling to hang out with. When it comes to health and balance, Rohini works out “maniacally” an hour and a half each morning - - running, swimming, biking. In 2009 she trained for and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (!). All of this provides her with unending energy and allows her to enjoy the delicious menu at her restaurants as well as her daily rum & coke or CHEEZ-ITS when flying between Chicago and New York to manage her two restaurant locations.
Add to this list of accomplishments an entire revamping of Vermillion’s New York location, complete with a new chef, Aseema Mamaji, who won a competition hosted by Rohini in India. Aseema joined the team last fall after the 1-½ year process to sponsor her for a VISA in the US. That’s dedication. On February 19, 2015, Rohini relaunched Vermilion New York with an evening of cocktails, TED-format talks, a Panel & Dinner with the intention to Celebrate Unconventional Indian Women.
“There are enough women out there who aspire to succeed in the culinary field. But until women can convince investors to take a bet on them to open their own restaurants, until women can convince the media they’re as hype-worthy as their male counterparts, and until more women run kitchens, change will be glacial.” With Rohini pushing the issue, the industry has an accelerator that will help speed the change.