Female empowerment — trend of the year12/3/2014
This year has been one of rising food prices and falling energy prices. That is an odd couple of economic indicators that are rarely allowed to hold hands in public. Other national trends included the strong arm of government inserting itself into public school kitchens, mandating soft drink cup sizes in New York, outlawing bottled water in San Francisco and demanding calorie counts on fast food menus everywhere.
In central Iowa, a year’s worth of mostly good news renewed the food scene. Food courts in older malls became viable entrepreneurial options for independent restaurateurs. While Hy-Vee upgraded the ambiance of its bargain cafés, almost system-wide, dry cleaners complained that fewer upscale restaurants used linen tablecloths anymore. Most significantly, though, the last year in Des Moines has been one of female empowerment. Obviously, that didn’t just happen this year. However, enough good things did to acknowledge that an unusual number of women are now bringing a positive influence to bear on our food acumen.
Among this year’s landmarks of female empowerment: Lisa LaValle opened the spectacular Trellis garden café in the Des Moines Botanical Center, the best designed café in many years. It is so imbued with good yin that I have sometimes provided the only yang presence there, even when it’s completely full. Susan Madorsky and Cherry Madole (formerly pastry chefs at The Willard Hotel in D.C. and Stanford Court in San Francisco) relocated their Tangerine catering company this year to Grand Avenue in West Des Moines. Tigel Chuol opened her splendid International African Café. Four ladies from the Anh family moved back to Des Moines and re-established their marvelous Pho All Seasons. Brandy Lueders debuted her Grateful Chef pick-up service in the Wallace House. Kerri Rush expanded her Fresh Market & Café to the south side. And Raw food chef Sharee Clark’s TV show, “Fork in the Road,” was renewed for a second season.
Catering is now dominated locally by female-owned companies. Cyd Koehn’s Catering by Cyd, Jennifer Strauss’ Carefree Patisserie, sisters Emily Gross and Andrea Williams’ Taste! To Go, and southern food diva Pam Patton’s Patton’s all upgraded local catering the last several years while defying the myth that lugging 50-pound coolers and 80-pound tents around is too much work for women.
Female owners like Fawn Soulinfavong (Fawn’s), Mao Heinemann (The King & I), Sommani Phanthavong (Nut Pob) Terrie Kohl (Country Club Market), Angelica Tejada (Tamales Industry), Marianna Gomez (Marianna’s), Rosa Martinez (La Rosa), Brenda Tran (Vietnam Café) and Christina Moffatt (Creme Cupcake + Dessert) have inspired newcomers. The biggest inspiration was Linda Bisignano, the longtime owner of Chuck’s, who died last year. In one of the happiest stories of the year, a young woman, Emily Andersen, bought that place and announced she would maintain its considerable traditions, including feeding several thousand folks a free Thanksgiving meal.
As one final testimony that women are moving in on the local food scene, consider Des Moines’ most recognizable national food producer, Graziano Brothers. It is run now by Frances Graziano, who is a sister to many but a brother to none.
Side Dishes: Since some readers asked, our favorite new food books this year are “How to Cook Everything Fast” by Mark Bittman and “Heritage” by Sean Brock. The first demystifies many an intimidating recipe, while the latter could well become the new Bible of southern cooking… Christina Moffat is retiring from day-to-day operations at Crème Cupcake + Dessert and taking a job at Iowa Small Business Development Center in January. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.Crème Cupcake + Dessert 543 28th St., 288-1050 Tues. – Thurs. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. – midnight, Sat. 10 a.m. – midnight