Chef to Chef: Jannequin and Ellie

Chef to Chef returns with a conversation between two of Richmond’s favorite female chefs: Jannequin Bennett (formerly of TJ’s and Ellwood Thompson’s) and Ellie Basch (owner of Savor Cafe). Learn about their thoughts on the differences between male and female chefs, fresh food in our schools, and more.

The concept of Chef to Chef is simple: two local chefs (uh, obviously) meet up to to get acquainted, talk shop, and answer a few questions posed by the lovely Genevelyn Steele. Special thanks to Morton’s The Steakhouse for hosting!

Jannequin Bennett is a transplanted Brooklyn/Manhattan chef whose resume includes The Kitchen in Soho and Pastiche (now defunct) in the theater district, where she cooked for Martin Scorsese, CBS, and Vogue. She moved to Richmond 11 years ago to head TJ’s at the Jefferson before becoming the executive chef of Ellwood Thompson’s — she has since left. Her specialty is vegan and macrobiotic menus, and she is the author of two cookbooks, Very Vegetarian and The Complete Vegetarian Kitchen. Jannequin is finishing her third book devoted to gluten-free recipes. She is also currently a Reiki healer.

Ellie Basch was born in Indonesia and raised by Chinese parents (her grandmother was one of the last generations to have bound feet) who owned a catering company. She grew up in the kitchens of Indonesia before moving to the United States to further her education. In college, Ellie studied English and literature while working in the front-of-the-house waiting tables. After graduation, she decided to get serious about her culinary career and apprenticed at The Southern Inn in Lexington, Virginia and tried out Richmond’s The Frog and the Redneck before opening her own catering company. She currently heads up Savor Café in Manchester where she is an owner. In her spare moments she runs extreme marathons and coaches a marathon training team in Richmond.

Let’s see what they had to say…

You both are active in forming a Richmond chapter of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs (WCR), so please answer the obvious: Do you see any differences in male and female chefs?

Ellie: Women chefs are more focused on cooking, less on drama. Generally, we have calmer kitchens.

Jannequin: I don’t know, in New York, I was THAT chef. The one who reduced grown men to tears.

However, Jannequin stresses that her leadership style has changed since then.

Our drinks arrive. Jannequin has a caipirinha and Ellie a ginger Nojito (non-alcoholic Mojito). We order garlic green beans and beefsteak tomato appetizers, which our server offers to have prepared vegan style.

Ellie has just returned from DC. As a member of WCR, she was invited to attend Chefs Move to Schools , a food movement to begin in school cafeterias, fronted by Michelle Obama and launched over two days in Washington.

Tell us more about Chefs Move to Schools.

Ellie: WCR is kicking off this event, having one chef communicate with a local school kitchen, and (looking to Jannequin) I just assumed you’d agree to this and volunteered you to help.

Jannequin: (laughing) Of course.

Ellie: One chef adopts a school, but with the power of WCR and other local chefs behind them, to answer questions that may arise about special diets, logistics, training, and planning. Feed More already has an after school snack program in place, but this will be a much larger project, working with cafeteria cooks and school administrators, as well as the students, who ultimately vote with their palates. So far, 1,000 chefs and 5,000 schools have signed up for the Chefs Move to Schools initiative and the White House is asking for ten billion in funds for the project. Michelle Obama has asked chefs to call or write their congressional representatives to pass this bill — now. The voting is next week. We are lobbying for better food to be served to our children at school.

I notice Michelle Obama has received a little flack for “riding on Jamie Oliver’s chef jacket”, by refusing to help with his show in Huntington, West Virginia, then essentially doing the same thing one year later.

Ellie: Maybe she didn’t want to be beholden to TV.

Jannequin: Well, it’s not exactly an original concept. Alice Waters had the Edible Schoolyard for years. Jamie Oliver is from England, not a local. I think the concept is to utilize local farmers, chefs, and ingredients and to change the supply chain. This is something that would be hard for someone that doesn’t live here full-time to do.

Ellie: This is a grassroots effort. Beyond the announcement, we don’t know what the repercussions will be. Our meeting in DC (last week) was to provide a model for schools to follow and to rally other chefs to help. Going back to what was said (in DC) you have to get everyone one involved. Ultimately, you need a wellness program in the schools. One thing I discovered (at the event) was that the White House has added a beehive to their garden.

Jannequin: There is a house on Floyd with a beehive—right in the front porch railings, they have honeycombs, swarming with bees. I love Alfredo’s honey [from Goochland] at South of the James Market.

Did you go to Broad Appetit?

Ellie: I went with a group of five. We had a plan. We all identified different plates we’d like to try and shared. Six Burner’s pork belly was my favorite dish. I saw much more variety this year.

Jannequin: Except for the ubiquitous slider, this was the year of the slider.

Ellie: Well, sliders have won the last two years…

Interested in finding out more about WCR or Chefs Move to Schools? Join Ellie, Jannequin, other female industry professionals (and guys supportive of women chefs and restaurateurs) this Monday from 5:30 to 6:30pm at Acacia for a membership drive for a new WCR Richmond chapter. The event is free and will include appetizers from a few chefs involved in the cause. There will also be a cash bar available.

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Genevelyn Steele

Genevelyn Steele mixed her first drink, a “Pink Squirrel”, at age six. Dubbed a natural, she was quickly enlisted to bartend at her parents’ soirees.

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