13 Stories Celebrating Women in the Phoenix Food World

Samantha Hickman was one of two females competing in the 2019 Devour Bartending Competition.
Samantha Hickman was one of two females competing in the 2019 Devour Bartending Competition. Courtesy of Upward Projects
Editor's note: This story was originally published on March 8, 2019. It was updated on March 30, 2019.

We're in the final days of Women's History Month, and while that celebrates females around the globe, we want to be a little selfish and talk about some of the women in Phoenix. And specifically in the food world.

The Valley is home to a number of impressive chefs and bartenders, food-makers and drink-makers, who are true adventurers. They take chances, they put themselves out there, they help others, and they explore all Arizona has to offer (which usually means ingredients, but can refer to some metaphorical stuff as well).

Let’s take a look back at some of the more recent and impressive stories we’ve seen about women within Phoenix’s food culture — each heralding the "balance for better" message.

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Chef Jenna Dao with her parents at her restaurant in Cave Creek.
JM Photo
A Southeast Asian Immigrant Fires Up Her Wok at 3 Regions
In this Cafe Review, we visit Jenna Dao, chef at 3 Regions Vietnamese Kitchen in Cave Creek, moved to the U.S. from Hue, Vietnam, in 1996. Dao prepares the same dishes she cooked for friends and family — the people who encouraged her to open a restaurant.

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Vegetable whisperer Charleen Badman was announced as a finalist for the James Beard award this week.
Chris Malloy
Scottsdale Chef Charleen Badman a Finalist for 2019 James Beard Award
On March 27, chef Charleen Badman of FnB was named as a finalist for the 2019 James Beard Awards — just one of 10 Arizona chefs who were announced as semifinalists in February.

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Courtesy of Talavera / Jackie Mercandetti
The Valley Food Elite Gets a New Chef
In another Cafe Review, we head for Talavera at the Four Seasons to visit chef Samantha Sanz — one of the six female chefs in the Phoenix area who were named semifinalists for the 2019 James Beard Awards. We tried her cooking to see if it lives up to the famous view from the Talavera patio.

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“Creating food naturally takes time. It is a dying art, but people need to understand it is important to know where food comes from.”
Rudri Bhatt Patel
Spotlight: Barrio Café Gran Reserva Sous Chef Brianna Arzaga
We chatted with the right-hand woman to chef Silvana Salcido Esparza — the Barrio Café Gran Reserva sous chef Brianna Arzaga. See how heritage, perseverance, and natural ingredients are motivating factors for Arzaga.

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Chanel Godwin-McMaken whips up cocktails during the 2019 Last Slinger Standing bartending contest.
Lisa Olson
Three Female Bartenders and Mixologists in Greater Phoenix
In addition to slangin’ carefully crafted mixed drinks at some of the most renowned bars and lounges in the Valley, these women are walking away with winning titles at bartending competitions, have customers swooning over their customized cocktails, and are encouraging all women interested in the mixology field to hop aboard the bartendress train.

Bonnie Jackson of Irene's Tap Room.
Mer Norwood
Four Female Brewery and Bar Founders in Greater Phoenix
We recently profiled four female brewery and bar founders and owners in greater Phoenix. We discuss their decisions to start a business, what they like about beer, and what advice they’d give other women looking to break into craft beer.

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Charleen Badman is a vegetable whisperer ... and James Beard Award semifinalist.
Chris Malloy
Six Female Chefs From Phoenix Area Nominated for 2019 James Beard Awards
Yes, out of eight semifinalists in the Phoenix area, six female chefs were named semifinalists for the 2019 James Beard Awards. Presented by the James Beard Foundation, these awards are considered the Super Bowl of food awards for chefs. This is just the first round, so this story is still unfolding.

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Samantha Hickman in her natural habitat — behind the bar at Windsor.
Courtesy of Upward Projects
The Heats Were On: Could a Woman Finally Win the Devour Bartending Title?
The eighth annual Devour Bartending Competition kicked off the 2019 Devour Week with a first — a female bartender from Windsor won the whole thing. Here’s how it went down, and what went into her winning cocktail.

What Four Female Chefs Are Bringing to Devour
The 10th annual Devour Culinary Classic was a majorly fun weekend of amazing weather and scenery, and of course some visionary dishes. We ate some amazing stuff, but we also talked with four female chefs from both days about the early days of their culinary career to what they were bringing to Devour 2019.

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"We’ll feed you,” says chef Silvana Salcido Esparza during the partial government shutdown in January 2019.
Chris Malloy
Unpaid Federal Employees Enjoying Free Meals at Barrio Cafe
During the 35-day partial government shutdown, chef Silvana Salcido Esparza started giving away free meals to federal workers. Here’s how she was inspired to help out her fellow humans, and how one FBI agent just blissed out over a mango salad.

Megan Greenwood of Greenwood Brewery
Mer Norwood
Woman-Owned Greenwood Brewing to Open on Roosevelt Row
Back in January, Greenwood Brewing owner Megan Greenwood raised $68,000 on Kickstarter to open the Greenwood Brewery & Beer Garden in the n the Roosevelt Row Arts District. Here’s how this home brewer made her way to opening a female-owned brewery in RoRo.

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Tamara Stanger provided chef demos in the VIP section on at Devour.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
A Journey to the Heart of New Arizonan Cuisine
Follow our food critic (then editor) Chris Malloy as he joins a group of chefs, including Tamara Stanger of Cotton & Copper (and 2018 Best of Phoenix winner for Best Visionary), into the wilderness of northern Arizona to forage for ancient ingredients. These are the pioneers of New Arizonan cuisine.

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Chef and owner Chrysa Robertson has the attention for detail.
Jackie Mercandetti
The Final Essential: A Classic Restaurant That Channels the Southwest's Seasons
Rancho Pinot was named our No. 1 Essential in 2018. For 25 years, Chrysa Robertson's restaurant has been churning out food that masterfully harnesses the desert seasons. Here's how she got there, and how Rancho Pinot earned the top spot.

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Left: Joyce and Jessica Boutwell, co-owners of Ruze Cake House in Scottsdale. Right: Helen Yung of Sweet Republic co-owns the Best of Phoenix 2018 winning ice cream shop and was a chef at the 2019 Devour Culinary Classic.
Courtesy of Jessica Boutwell / Evie Carpenter
Best of Phoenix 2018 Winners
In additional to Stanger's award, a number of BOPs went out to female business owner, restaurant runners, and innovators in 2018. This includes The Maine Lobster Lady winning Best Food Truck, Sweet Republic winning Best Ice Cream (co-founded by Helen Yung), Best Japanese Restaurant going to Hana Japanese Eatery (co-owned by chef Lori Hashimoto), and Ruze Cake House — co-owned by Jessica Rose Boutwell — winning Best Dessert Design.
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Lauren Cusimano was the Phoenix New Times food editor from 2018 to 2021. Joys include eating wings, riding bikes, knowing everyone at the bar, talking too much about The Simpsons, and falling asleep while reading.