For decades, the professional kitchen has been a man’s world, and breaking down those barriers has been no small task. Even once a woman has her foot in the door and a place at the stove, she inevitably experiences a different experience than her male coworkers.

Luckily for our students, the face of the industry is changing, but there is still some work left to do. According to Data USA, a partnership between Deloitte and MIT, 78.4% of chefs and head cooks are men, and the average salary for women in the industry is about $6,000 less per year than their male counterparts. And while this can be frustrating and certainly disappointing, rather than being a deterrent for the women in our industry, it has been a call to action.

It is International Women's Day, and we celebrate knowing that representation in the culinary industry is a work in progress, but a task we are ready to tackle together. Just like the CIA’s co-founders Frances Roth and Katherine Angell, two women who shared a vision for something extraordinary, we see a great future for our students.

And our students are the best example. Our student body is nearly 50% male and 50% female, and as they work together in their classroom kitchens, they normalize the experience of working elbow to elbow with chefs from every walk of life. What’s more, we have a dynamic group of female faculty members who model grit, strength, leadership, and excellence.

We spoke to a few of those faculty members to see where they drew inspiration to fight the odds and excel in the professional kitchen.

Katherine Polenz, Professor of Culinary Arts and author, Cooking for Special Diets

There are three women who I would say influenced my interest in food and cooking:

CIA Chef Katherine Polenz

My Grandmother, Harriet Fulper. Grammy Fulper was a farmer’s wife who had 10 children and a passel of farm hands to cook for 3 meals a day. As one of the 24+ grandkids, I often “helped” in her farm kitchen on Sundays when the entire family would gather after church. It was in Grammy Fulper’s kitchen I witnessed and learned farm-style home cooking, comfort foods that feed the soul and fuel hard work.

My Mother, Gladys Polenz, farmer’s wife, teacher and mother of six! Mom (and Dad) taught me gardening, the value of eating farm fresh foods, respect for all living beings including the animals that we raised for food, and to not be wasteful. They composted before it was the cool, green thing to do. My mom taught me to bake pies, cakes, cookies and brownies, canning fruits and vegetables, how to make pickles, jelly and jam.

Louise Fisher, Chef of the Ringoes Tavern and Steak House. Louise was the first chef (a woman!) I ever worked for. Louise hired me as a dish/pot washer and prep person at the age of thirteen. I worked for Louise for 5 years part- and full-time. Louise is the one that noticed I had a desire to learn professional cooking and started training me to work the line. Louise was one of three people instrumental in encouraging me to attend cooking school.

Shirley Cheng, Professor of Culinary Arts
CIA Chef Shirley ChengIt is very difficult for me to say who inspired me to be a chef. When I was young, I was assigned to the cooking school to be a chef, no choice (that was the "culture revolution period”). I could say my parents taught me to be the best no matter what career I am working. To be the best of yourself through hard work and studying is the inspiration from my parents. I grew up [in China] under the slogan "Women hold up half the sky."



Melissa Fritz, Associate Professor of Baking and Pastry Arts
CIA Chef Melissa FritzI would have to say that the woman whom inspired me to become a pastry chef was my high school teacher, Mrs. Wilson. During my senior year she encouraged me to enter a competition for a four year, full-ride scholarship. I had already been accepted to Virginia Tech. I told my parents that I wanted to be a pastry chef, and they did not feel it was a secure career, and refused to pay for it. I happened to place second in the preliminary competition and went on to win the finals. I was awarded the scholarship and was able to study baking and pastry arts and earn my bachelor’s degree in food service management. If it had not been for Mrs. Wilson, I would have never pushed myself, but her support, encouragement, and belief in my abilities set the course for the rest of my life. My parents are happy too!


Genevieve Meli, CIA graduate and Lecturing Instructor of Baking and Pastry Arts
CIA Chef Genevieve MeliAnne-Sophie Pic and Dominque Crenn are very big inspirations for me. These women are fierce individuals, and the more they innovate and work, the more I am inspired.