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  • Writer's pictureOlive Tree

Cincinnati's Women Chefs Are Stepping Off the Line and Making a Name for Themselves in Non-Tradition

“There’s so many ways that women as chefs and cooks can be so instrumental and so important besides having a restaurant. Just being a restaurant chef — it’s not everything. Food has a lot more roles than just food at a restaurant.”

Ibtisam Matso, chef, middle eastern food
(L to R): Chefs Margaret Galvin, Ibtisam Masto and Frances Kroner

Women in food are a fact. As long as there’s a place for anyone who has a passion for the culinary arts, women will be in food. The more intriguing thing today is just where those places are.

In Cincinnati, it seems change is a-brewing in the food industry as women are stepping off the proverbial line (though plenty still populate those traditional back-of-house restaurant roles) and into solopreneur hustles, or catering gigs, or restaurant operations or education.

The kitchen is an expanding metaphor for the way women are increasingly subverting the dominant paradigm. But why and how, exactly, are they doing it?

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A Syrian refugee who fled her war-torn country with her children for Lebanon before making her way to America, Masto is now the proprietor of a small catering outlet called Olive Tree. Local nonprofit RefugeeConnect helped Masto realize a dream she had professed when she first arrived in the states.

“I said, ‘I’m (a) chef. I want people to help me start this work,’” Masto says. “And (RefugeeConnect) told me about the lady at FreshLo. I had to (get my) certificate from FreshLo, and then (through) this program, we made everything — what I want to do for my business, from beginning to step-by-step.”

Funded by the Kresge Foundation, FreshLo offers home cooks like Masto the opportunity to scale up as much as they want. Masto now works at Dean’s Mediterranean Imports in Findlay Market, and operates Olive Tree out of Findlay Kitchen.

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