Atlanta Food & Wine Festival founder discusses move to all-female advisory council

The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival announced last week that it was changing the makeup of its advisory council, moving to an all-female advisory body for the 2018 festival, which takes place May 31-June 3 in Midtown.

The 60 council members include female food and beverage professionals from throughout the South. Atlanta names include Tiffanie Barriere , Jennifer Hill Booker, Asha Gomez , Jocely Gragg, Mihoko Obunai, Tokiwa Sears, Kellie Thorn , Deborah Van Trece, Suzanne Vizethann and Virginia Willis.

VIDEO: Tiffanie Barriere, Jennifer Hill Booker and Deborah Van Trece discuss their experiences in the restaurant industry

“The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival is a mission-driven organization with a passionate and fierce focus on shining an international spotlight on the rich food and beverage traditions of the South,” said festival co-founder Dominique Love in a prepared statement. “To fulfill our mission, we must continue to evolve our programming and talent pool to ensure we are telling the story of Southern food and drink in the most authentic way. We know that women and African- American, Latino, Indian and Asian people have long-influenced our region’s epicurean traditions, but they are often underrepresented in commercial kitchens, the media and even at Festivals.”

Last year’s 80-member advisory council was comprised of both men and women.

“We’ve been talking about this for the past year,” said Love later in a phone interview. “Before a lot of things came up – pre-Weinstein era, if you will – there has been an issue of women and chefs of color not getting limelight.”

The change, Love said, “isn’t because of sexual harassment allegations.” “It was time for us to make a change, to shake things up with our talent. It just happens to be very timely with what’s going on.”

Simply adding more women to its pool of presenters and exhibitors was not sufficient, Love said, because that alone “wasn’t going to get them the attention they needed or the platform to talk about what they are doing.”

The decision to switch to an all-female advisory council also required a change in the organization’s bylaws. Until last year, council members needed to have garnered a James Beard Foundation award, nomination or another major national accolade to sit on the council.

“That changed. It had to change,” Love said. “The James Beard Foundation is doing a lot to be more inclusive of women. We have a realization that we set these standards of entry. We were limiting our talent.”

Love stated that, while the council is made up of 60 females, more than 200 men and women are involved in the festival. Men will still be involved as presenters and exhibitors, she said.

“There is an overall commitment that our festival is not going to be known for not including everyone,” Love said. “This comes down to the core of our story, which is to shine an international spotlight on the rich food and beverage traditions of the South."

This is not the first time that the festival has addressed topics of concern facing the industry.

In past years, programming included “Where are the Black Chefs?”, a class focused on the disproportionately low number of African-American chefs helming commercial kitchens, as well as“Powerful & Delicious,” a female-centric dinner focused on highlighting the role of women in Southern food and drink culture.

Last year was the first time since the festival’s debut in 2011 that it offered what Love called a “chill space,” an alcohol-free area for chefs and other participants to take breaks during the festival. That decision arose after discussions of “issues our presenters are dealing with,” Love said, including those on the path to sobriety. There will be a “chill space” again at this year’s festival as part of its “Nourishing You” program to help participating chefs and beverage professionals navigate the stresses of the industry.

Tickets to the 2018 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival go on sale March 16 and can be purchased at


Photos: Female chefs making waves in metro Atlanta

My daughter wants to be a chef -- can you help?

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Ligaya Figueras
Ligaya Figueras
Ligaya Figueras joined the AJC as its food and dining editor in 2015.