Nicholls launches the Empowered Women Chef series with Jacqueline Blanchard, Nicholls alumni and Coutelier NOLA owner, as the series’ first guest speaker.
Blanchard graduated from Nicholls in 2006 and has since worked in restaurants from the west coast to the east coast. She currently owns Coutelier NOLA, a knife shop located in New Orleans.
“I think that [Nicholls] has such a unique program,” Blanchard said. “The Empowered Women Chefs series is setting a new bar for women coming up in the industry.”
The Empowered Women Chef series is a seven-part series that features a different female culinary professional for each lecture. The speakers discuss their experiences in the culinary industry and demonstrate particular skills in hopes of “encouraging women to pursue successful careers in the male-dominated restaurant industry” (Nicholls).
“It’s my pleasure to be included,” Blanchard said. “Talking about my experiences in professional kitchens as a women chef gives [students] a better understanding of what they’re getting themselves into or what to expect.”
Blanchard believes she was lucky to know early on in high school that she wanted to become a chef. Although she had always cooked as a child, she once had a dream of becoming an animator for Disney.
“Cooking was something I was always into,” Blanchard said. “When I got into high school, everything just started to click. I think I was lucky to know so early in high school what I really wanted to do because not a lot of high school and college students know what they want to do until they get to college.”
Culinary education doesn’t end once you graduate.
“In the restaurant industry, there is no ceiling on what you learn or the education you’re gonna get,” Blanchard said. “Food is such an infinite language so there’s so much to learn all the time.”
Just like any other industry, people start their careers at the bottom of the pyramid. Everyone needs to prove their dedication and demonstrate their skills in order to move up.
“I took a longer road starting from the ground up,” Blanchard said. “Some people who are right out of school want to jump into management positions and want to make a lot of money. They don’t realize that it takes a lot of time. Your experience matters.”
Although the 21st century has brought great innovations and developments, females still struggle with equal pay and respect in the workplace. Blanchard believes such behavior is unfortunate and needs to change.
“There has definitely been times when I’ve been passed up for male counterparts,” Blanchard said. “You have to not think of it as sex-related, men versus women in the kitchen kind of thing. You have to block it out.”
Blanchard stresses that sexism in the kitchen is unacceptable.
“It’s unfortunate when you know you’re the most experienced and have the best merit, yet somebody else is getting paid twice as much as you are,” Blanchard said. “You can’t put up with that type of stuff anymore and that’s something that’s really important for me to get across to a lot of the women. It’s a different time. We have to make it known that it’s not okay.”
Blanchard advises culinary students to follow their career paths for the right reasons.
“Your choices can’t be about the media or television shows,” Blanchard said. “It’s hard work, so your choices should be about what you love doing or else you’ll question what you’re doing.”