Women on Fire highlights female chefs and other food workers in Iowa City

Women on Fire

Pullman Bar & Diner — Monday, Sept. 26 at 6 p.m.

There’s no question: Many women love to cook. Traditionally, a woman’s role was — and for some, still is — to run the kitchen at home. Still, men overwhelmingly dominate chef positions at restaurants nationwide. Last year, only 19.6 percent of chefs and head cooks were women, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

Iowa City chefs Hannah White of Clinton Street Social Club and Emily Agnew-Seiler of Pullman Bar & Diner defy this trend.

Emily Agnew-Seiler (L) and Hannah White are the chef's behind Women on Fire. -- photo by Helaina Thompson
Emily Agnew-Seiler (L) and Hannah White are the chef’s behind Women on Fire. — photo by Helaina Thompson

White began her kitchen career washing dishes at Clinton Street Social Club, where early on she dealt with another alarmingly common deterrence for women working in kitchens: unwanted sexual advances. Ninety-percent of female restaurant workers experience sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a 2014 Restaurant Opportunities Center United report.

“I remember one time I was working the dishwasher. It was a hot day, so I was wearing a white tank top. And a guy said something about grabbing the dish hose and spraying me down with water,” she said.

Underrepresentation of women in chef positions is no fluke. Inadequate maternity leave and childcare options remove many women from restaurant kitchens before they assume top roles.

White and Agnew-Seiler are gearing up to host Women on Fire, a five-course dinner event celebrating local women in the food business.

Women on Fire aims to support women who have chosen to work in food, regardless of present barriers. “[This field] is male-dominated, but we come through one at a time,” said Agnew-Seiler.

Also, she added, the two chefs anticipate meeting other women like themselves through the event.

“I want to get to know my CSA farmer and the people who do what I do — the people who feel the same way I feel about food, about cooking and about the lives we’ve chosen,” Agnew-Seiler said.

The two have partnered with local female farmers, herbalists and brewers — including Shanti Shellz, Lois Pavelka and Michelle Schmidt, to name a few — to feature seasonal produce throughout the meal.

“[The farmers] gave us a list, and we pretty much made our dishes from that list,” said Agnew-Seiler. “My first dish is very South American — a lot of spice, a lot of fresh ingredients.”

“I’ll be working with pork belly — a really nice, rich piece of meat,” White said. “And the clam dish I’m doing is highlighting sweet corn and scallions. The main thing we are trying to stay true to is what’s in season from farmers right now: corn, tomatoes, squash.”

The event will take place at Pullman Bar & Diner on Monday, Sept. 26 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $90. Online ticket sales have ended, but tickets will be available at the door. This event is SOLD OUT! Call (319-338-1808) or email ( for special seating requests, if you have your tickets already.

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