Women in Culinary Leadership (WCL) is an accelerated, learning-by-doing mentorship program. Offered under the auspices of the James Beard Foundation, WCL gives women with a background in hospitality or the culinary arts and at least two years of relevant work experience a chance to work with top industry leaders and build in-depth skills in the kitchen or in restaurant management and hospitality.
Lorraine Moss had her dream job as a journalist for the number one station in the Bay Area. So, what made her move to a different state, change careers, and start fresh? Find out how Border Grill’s newest WCL mentee threw caution to the wind to set out on a path of self-discovery.
1. You used to be a TV news reporter – what made you switch careers?
I had my dream job, but something was missing and I was not happy at a certain point with how journalism was going. When we had the chance to move back to Las Vegas, my husband asked, “What would you do if no one paid you any money at all?” and my answer was; cook. So, I started culinary school, and loved it. For me, it felt like the opposite of journalism. Instead of being there at people’s worst moments, I was there at people’s best moments, celebrating life and eating.
2. What skills do you bring from journalism that make you a great chef?
I work really well under pressure. Deadlines are minute to minute in news, and it’s the same with cooking. Anything can change at any second, and you have to adapt accordingly. And then of course, working with many different types of people. You work with a lot of people who want things done their way, so you have to kind of navigate that, and teach people in a way in which they can learn. In reporting, you take something obscure that was said to you by a scientist or police officer or lawyer, and translate that to what a tv audience would understand. When you’re cooking, it’s very similar to that. You’re taking something that could be very complicated and as a chef, you’ve got to break it down to its easiest element so that everyone can understand so you can get the result that you want.
3. How did you hear about the WCL program?
It was from another chef mentor that I had, and he knew that I was looking for the next step. And, actually, I was looking for female mentors, to be honest. So when this presented itself, I thought, wow if I could get this mentorship at Border Grill, I could be with two strong ladies. I haven’t had a woman boss in a long time, and I think it’s important, as a woman, to have that type of influence in your life. As much as things have changed, that glass ceiling is still very much there for a lot of careers, including the culinary industry. When you think of many top chefs – the highest paid with the biggest restaurants – most of them happen to be male. So I think it’s very important to give people an opportunity when a particular group of people hasn’t gotten a fair chance.
4. Why do you think the majority of executive chefs in restaurants tend to be men?
That’s a really good question, because when you think about cooking, it doesn’t quite jive. In many families, including American families, the female of the household is usually the cook. Not in all, but in most. So if that’s the norm, then how come when it comes to cooking professionally, it’s mostly males that are at the top? I think it’s something that hopefully the WCL is going to help address in some way. It’s so unusual to find chefs like Mary Sue and Susan, and it really shouldn’t be.
5. What advice would you give other females just starting their culinary careers?
Number one; you need mentors. Up to this point I didn’t really have very many female chef mentors, but I think you navigate differently as a female in the kitchen, so it’s good to have women role models who have paved the way and have been successful at navigating that path. Mary Sue and Susan have told me stories of what it was like to be the only two women in a kitchen. Mary Sue was the first one in her French kitchen, and then Susan was the second one in the same kitchen and that’s how they got to know each other. I think it’s so important to have those women that you can talk to, and that’s what they’ve done. They’ve mentored other women chefs before me and still talk to them, so finding a permanent mentor, someone you can always go back to is a great idea.
6. What is your favorite meal to cook for friends and family?
I come from a crazy background – my mom is Portuguese, my dad is Filipino, they’re also partly Spanish and Italian – so my cooking is all over the place just like me! There’s something that we cook a lot in Portuguese cuisine called Arroz Gordo, which translates to fat rice. It’s similar to Arroz con Pollo, except you put all different types of meat in it. There’s Portuguese sausage, hard-boiled eggs, pork chops, and of course just like most traditional Latin foods, every family has a little tweak on it. So there are different ways of making it, but it’s also kind of a way to clean out your fridge. It’s a tomato based rice with whatever meat you have, and you just throw it all in there. It reminds me of my childhood. It’s kind of like a comfort food for me. My comfort food wasn’t hot dogs and hamburgers, it was Arroz Gordo.
7. Do you have a favorite Border Grill dish?
I love the ceviches. The Peruvian Ceviche especially. I love the sauce on it. It’s spicy, it’s got that fruity element, it’s nice and bright. I’m a sucker for seafood in general, so that tends to be what I gravitate toward.
8. What is it like to be mentored by Mary Sue and Susan?
I had the Too Hot Tamales cookbook when I was a kid. So I grew up with them. I grew up with the Food Network. I remember that outside of Julia Child and Mary Sue and Susan, there were very few female chefs on TV that I grew up watching. So when I was chosen for the mentorship, I remember just freaking out with my parents.
Having them as mentors is pretty amazing. They’re both very busy, but they are always very open about allowing me to tag along. Since they have their hands in everything, I’ve had the opportunity to also have my hands in a little bit of everything they’re involved in. Also, for celebrity chefs, they spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I’ve worked with other celebrity chefs, and I wouldn’t see them for months at a time. But they’re here every week. They’re running expo, they’re on a station cooking, motivating, and trying dishes. I don’t think people realize that a lot of celebrity chefs don’t do that. It’s awesome to have not one, but two people with so much experience. Not only in the kitchen, but with writing cookbooks, starring in a TV show, events, giving back to the community – they’re all over the place. And because of that, I’m able to learn so much more than I would in any other kitchen.
A day in the life of a Border Grill sous chef: Follow Lorraine on Instagram for more of her daily insights.