There was a point in Laila Borokhim’s career when she felt very much alone and unsupported in opening a restaurant.
“Everyone I talked to said ‘Don’t do it,’” she says.
Her father told her she was crazy and asked, “What are you going to do if you have a baby?” Laila’s thought: “I don’t know, what do doctors do?”
Undeterred, Borokhim went ahead with plans, navigating the restaurant business on her own and successfully opened Layla’s Persian Food on South Butler Street. But in the process, she didn’t know who to go to for support—there wasn’t a group of women chefs to reach out to for encouragement and experience.
Now there is such a community, thanks to Borokhim and other women like herself.
Together with local female chefs/owners, Francesca Hong of Morris Ramen and Tami Lax of Harvest and The Old Fashioned, Borokhim reached out to other women—chefs, cooks, food artisans, beverage producers and growers and created the Culinary Ladies Collective.
With a membership close to 90 in just a few weeks of inception, this collective’s goal is to ignite passion among women throughout the culinary landscape by sharing stories, time and resources. With a commitment to serve communities through mentorship, volunteer outreach, education, fundraising and advocacy, these chefs collaborate not only among themselves, but with other community-minded organizations.
The group’s first event will be a BBQ brunch on Sunday, April 30 at the season opener of the South Madison Farmers’ Market at the Labor Temple Lawn at 1602 S. Park St.
Fill your plate with good food such as: BBQ jackfruit from Jennie Capellaro of The Green Owl Café, bourbon baked beans from Lax, sweet and spicy beef via Hong, cheddar chive biscuits from Molly Maciejewski of Madison Sourdough, mini strawberry pop tarts by Kristine Miller of Dough Baby Bakery and cold brew tea and coffee concoctions from Jen Roth of Cadence Cold Brew.
All proceeds from the brunch benefit Neighborhood Food Solutions, a nonprofit organization with a mission to teach others how to grow and sell organic food, “utilizing food as a medium to teach others how to help themselves,” according to Robert Pierce. Pierce, who collaborates on this program, is manager of the South Madison Farmers’ Market and owner of Half the 40 Acres organic farm.
This is the first of many events the Culinary Ladies Collective plans to be apart of, and each event will have at least one thing in common—all proceeds will go to the partnering organization the collective works with.
And in the process of supporting local organizations and groups, this network strives to empower women who have chosen to join the culinary community or who are considering stepping into the culinary path.
“I don’t see this as a group where we’re like ‘F*** men.’ More like, ‘We’re women. Let’s be helpful to one another … let’s be helpful to other women who are coming into this industry,” says Borokhim. “And if there are men who want to work with us, great.”