'Force de Femme' Highlights Female Power in St. Louis' Food Scene

click to enlarge Angela Ortmann.
Angela Ortmann.
Angela Ortmann's first "Love to Eat, Eat to Love" event, held in February, highlighted immigrant contributions to St. Louis' food scene — even as President Trump's travel ban had many of them feeling anxious.

Nine months later, the second event in Ortmann's collaborative dining series also feels ripped from the headlines. The revelation that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein preyed on women has many industries — including the restaurant one — taking a hard look at their own records of dealing with harassment.

Ortmann, better known as "STL Wine Girl," says she didn't consciously set out to celebrate women in the wake of the national conversation that broke out last month. But it's an issue that's long been on her mind.

"One important part of this event, to me, is the opportunity to highlight women," she says. "In any industry, we face certain challenges. But even with that, women in the restaurant business are in a unique situation. Climbing the ranks can be a little tougher; your skin has to get a little thicker." Taking a moment — and a dinner — focusing on the women who've succeeded against tough odds felt not only right, but also fun.

And so "Love to Eat, Eat to Love 2: Force de Femme" — planned for next Monday, November 13 at 2nd Shift Brewery (1601 Sublette Avenue) — aims to be a one-night celebration of women up and down the entire food supply chain. More than 75 women are slated to be involved — chefs and restaurant owners, yes, but also brewers, sommeliers, farmers, distillers and distributors.

As Ortmann promises in the press materials,
All food will either be from female chefs or from the kitchens of woman-owned establishments, all beers served have women involvement, all wines will be from female producers/winemakers and poured by female sommeliers and distributor representatives, and cocktails have been created by female bartenders using select women-produced spirits.

Every bite or sip will have anywhere from two to six women behind it, from ingredient to execution.
"It's a really layered situation," Ortmann says, marveling at all the female hands that will touch each dish or drink — which includes reps from community favorites I Fratellini, Clementine's Naughty & Nice Creamery, Lemmons by Grbic, Balkan Treat Box, Reeds American Table, Guerrilla Street Food, Olive + Oak and many, many more. (See the event website or its Facebook page for more details and ticket info.) She adds, "It's so much bigger than the last one in terms of the people involved."

And the last one, of course, was nothing to sneeze at. The sold-out event, held at Mai Lee, came together quickly, but galvanized a community left reeling by current events. "It took just three weeks and three days, but we ended up with 200-plus people and 50 chefs," Ortmann marvels. "Then the next morning I started hearing from people: 'When are you doing another one?' I was like, 'I'm sorry, what?'"

Nine months later, she's ready to go, and she's got a female army marching along with her — an army she hopes continues to grow.

"On one hand, it's been kind of interesting because it's like, 'Look at all these women we do have here.' But it also brings to light the clear disparity of leadership roles in the kitchen," she says. Going through the roster of chefs helming the city's top kitchens, "You realize, 'Oh, that's a guy, that's a guy.'"

Still, she says, "We have over 30 female chefs, pastry chefs and private event company caterers. We definitely weren't struggling to find people." And even the men were eager to do their part: "To their credit, so many of these 'woke' male chefs have said, 'What can I do to help?' They've been completely supportive, and that's been so special."

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About The Author

Sarah Fenske

Sarah Fenske is the executive editor of Euclid Media Group, overseeing publications in eight cities. She is the former host of St. Louis on the Air and was previously editor-in-chief of the RFT and the LA Weekly. She lives in St. Louis.
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