Star chef fights for equality in food industry, cancer research

Shortly after arriving in Boston to start a dream job as food stylist and cast member on “America’s Test Kitchen,” Elle Simone Scott received some life-altering news.

It was 2016, and the then 40-year-old chef “had been experiencing a little bit of pain.”

She’d seen a doctor “at least twice” about the issue, but the discomfort wasn’t going away.

“And I thought it would just be a good idea to follow up on that,” Scott said.

The diagnosis: stage 1C, grade 3 ovarian cancer — one of the deadliest cancers for women.

“It was very challenging; it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Scott said about her battle with the cancer that affects 20,000 women in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“And I promised myself and the higher power that if I survived this horrible disease, I would commit my life’s work to bringing awareness to this disease and to fight for detection, a cure, and I’d do anything … and so, here I am.”

On March 5, Scott, now in remission, will emcee the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance’s annual “Turn Up the Heat” culinary event at The Anthem, which celebrates the work of the city’s top female chefs and mixologists while raising funds for ovarian cancer research and patient programs.

This year’s event will highlight the work of Seng Luangrath, chef and owner of the Laotian restaurant Thip Khao. Past honorees include Marjorie Meek-Bradley of St. Anselm and Amy Brandwein of Centrolina.

Bringing attention to ovarian cancer is a life mission for Scott, and so is rallying and supporting female chefs. Because in addition to her roles as TV food star and ovarian cancer advocate, Scott is also the founder of SheChef, a professional networking organization she started in 2013 for women chefs of color.

Scott said the idea came to her while hustling through New York’s culinary industry, where she worked as a caterer, a food stylist and as an intern for Food Network. She noticed few women in the field — and even fewer women of color.

Various sources report about 20 percent of restaurant kitchens are run by women, and a 2017 report from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company found women of color account for 3 percent of leadership roles in the food industry.

“I thought it would be a great way to create a network to bring those underrepresented people together to see how we could support each other, create a network where we can help each other grow professionally — also to just deal with the angst of being women in kitchens where we are the only women in the kitchen,” said Scott, who worked as a social worker after college before pivoting to a career in the culinary arts.

“That brings about a lot of mental, physical and emotional tests. And it’s not easy to navigate alone. So I thought, ‘I should create a network.’”

Since its inception, SheChef has grown from small group meetups in New York to a national-level organization with more than 200 members — and it shows no signs of slowing down, especially at a time when the industry’s long standing abusive and chauvinistic behaviors are coming to light.

“Even though the trajectory of the culinary industry is changing, slowly but surely, the need for sisterhood, camaraderie, network, connectivity — all those things still exist. Until those numbers start to balance, we’ll still need that support,” Scott said.

And especially for women of color.

“It’s important for us to see ourselves represented in this industry. That’s how we know we can do it — when we see someone who looks like us achieving the goal. And SheChef is meant to be a glass window for all of us to look through and see ourselves being successful on the other side.”

The Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance’s “Turn Up the Heat” event will take place March 5 at The Anthem at 6:30 p.m. General admission is $280; tickets include unlimited food and drinks from more than 40 of D.C.’s culinary stars. More information is available on the event’s website.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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