“If you have a passion for cooking, hopefully you can find a way to make it work,” says Kathy Collins, executive chef at NOLA MOCA, located inside of MOCA Jacksonville. She’s answering a question about what it’s like to be a woman chef in the kitchen. In the following pages, we profile six of the leading female chefs in Northeast Florida, in conjunction with the August 19 event, Women of the Knife.
Women of the Knife is a multi-course tasting event Collins says was inspired by the exhibition Confronting the Canvas: Women of Abstraction, which is currently on view at the contemporary art museum.
My dining room manager and event coordinator Mico Fuentes and I were talking about the show, and he suggested the idea of a dinner by women chefs. That conversation got me thinking about women’s roles in lots of fields that have traditionally been male-dominated … and cooking, my passion, certainly has been. So, this way, we could do something in support of the abstraction show that also could be about ambitious cooking,” explains Collins.
She elaborates: for her, in many ways, the planning of this event has been a way to participate in a larger dialogue around a community of chefs cooking together. She explains that the selection was done to mirror the abstraction show, and also to “highlight the incredible talent of the women chefs here in our region.”
The plan/theme of the evening is seasonal and inspired by the paintings (all the chefs received packets of information). Collins says, the chefs are all working together to create a harmonious event, with flavors and courses building on one another, “I want them to do what they do best, and be inspired by the artwork … that’s part of the fun of meeting up together to collaborate on the dishes and taste some wines/alcohols by female winemakers, owners and master distillers … I want to give the chefs a chance to do something that they might not be able to do otherwise.”
Collins then goes on to say that she hopes to see this project expanded, and possibly repeated, perhaps in a different venue, under a different set of circumstances, and perhaps with different chefs. “I really think this is something people – chefs and guests – are going to respond well to, and I’d like to see it become an outlet for some of the talented folks I know.”
When asked what she personally plans to prepare, Collins smiles, saying it’s still a work in progress. Then she pauses and says, “the colors in these paintings though …” and sighs happily as she makes an elusive comment about sauces, textures, and bourbon.
The idea to present a dining experience hosted by six forward-thinking and important chefs is an exciting one. It speaks to a changing culture around careers once typically slated for men, and acts as an eloquent counterpoint to the achievements of the painters, whose work deserves visibility too. And Arbus was happy to take this opportunity to ask the chefs questions about education, inspiration, and Alice Waters.
Article written by Madeleine Peck Wagner • Photos by Shannon Collins