September 2019

Women Chefs in the Lowcountry: Recipes for Success

Author: Lucy Rosen | Photographer: M.Kat Photography


Leslie Rohland, owner of The Cottage Cafe, Bakery & Tea Room in Old Town Bluffton.

According to the National Restaurant Association, the number of woman-owned food establishments has increased by more than 50 percent in the last decade—yet the statistics remain startling: only 20 percent of chefs in the United States are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women chefs are on the rise, however, with the Culinary Institute of America, for the first time, enrolling more women than men in 2016. More and more women are realizing that a woman’s place is “in the kitchen” so to speak, leading to tremendous career success and personal fulfillment.

No place is that more evident than here in the Lowcountry, where a number of local trailblazing women chefs are cooking up opportunities and changing the local food scene with their innovative menus, creative ideas, and, of course, fabulous award-winning culinary creations.

According to a blog on www.chefify.net, cooking styles seem to suggest that men treat a kitchen as a lab (i.e. more innovative), while women tend to lean towards more regional, traditional and nurturing styles. Innovative women chefs are rarely mentioned, contributing to the misperception that gender plays a significant role in a chef’s creative abilities.

Here in the Lowcountry, four women chefs are proving them wrong and are perfect examples of how their innovation in the kitchen and beyond has been the key ingredient to their success.

Leslie Rohland
In 2009, there was virtually no competition for Leslie Rohland when she opened The Cottage Café, Bakery & Tea Room in the center of Old Town Bluffton on Calhoun Street. She worked to restore Bluffton’s historic cottage built in 1868 by J.J. Carson, renovating it and transforming it into what is, today, one of Bluffton’s most established and historic restaurants. The cozy setting she has created showcases old world charm and Southern hospitality, extended to both local residents and area visitors who flock to her restaurant for a true Bluffton experience. Her shrimp and grits recipe (of which she makes at least 5,000 servings a year) has garnered both national and local awards. And with a constant updating to her already full menu, Rohland is always ahead of the curve in terms of coming up with foods and fun special events to drive customers in to the popular restaurant.
“With the ever-increasing number of restaurant openings in Bluffton, I’m constantly adding to my menu to provide my customers with exciting options using a wide variety of locally sourced fresh produce and specialty items—always staying true to my vision, creative process and love of creating mouth-watering dishes for all,” Rohland said. Her recent inspiration has come in the form of “Represent,” which is a well-portioned selection of three of her most-loved dinner dishes, allowing her guests to sample a variety of popular menu items and still go home full! Launching this fall will be a Wednesday evening women’s program, which will include dinner and a speaker on topics of interest to women. And once a month, a local charity is chosen for a Sunday Brunch fundraiser, where a percentage of sales is donated back to the organization.


Lynn Michelle
A personal chef to vacationers and locals, known for her interactive and entertaining demonstrations at gourmet food stores and upscale appliance centers such as the recently opened Billy Wood Appliance in Bluffton, Chef Lynn Michelle isn’t surprised by the statistics and lack of women chefs. “I have been told several times by male chefs that, in this field, women belong in the home kitchen and not in the commercial kitchen,” she said. “I interviewed for several executive chef positions in and around this area before I decided to open my own company. The pivotal point came about two years ago when I was interviewing for a chef position and the chef made me wait an hour for him. When he returned, he said, ‘I’ve filled the chef position, but you can be a server.’”

Booked all the way out into 2020, Chef Lynn Michelle has literally crashed through the glass (or Teflon) ceiling that existed for her and has created her boutique private chef company, recently hiring several more assistants to help her with her busy schedule and demand for in-home and in-store executive chef services. “I believe I’ve had to work three or four times harder than most men in my field, but my attention to detail, ability to multi-task, ability to adapt menus and food preferences for any crowd, and relationships I build with my clients has catapulted my company to a level of success that I am very proud of.”


Jennifer Gleitsmann
Jennifer Gleitsmann, owner of Marmalade Homemade Baking, has experienced what most business owners only dream of: a word-of-mouth, explosively growing and successful business. With a huge following that started with friends, Marmalade Homemade Baking is known for fresh baked goods that are made and sold at farmers markets, pop-up pie shops and by private order. Gleitsmann has found that the global baking community on social media is a great support system that has provided encouragement, camaraderie and connection with many other like- minded, passionate bakers.


Amanda Russ
“In every kitchen I’ve ever worked, I have been the only female line cook. Either I was replacing one who was leaving for greener pastures or I was their first female hire,” said Amanda Russ, owner of the popular Pomodori’s on Hilton Head Island. “That being said, my first mentor was a GM in a restaurant where I was working in Charleston who asked me (at 28 years old) what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told him a chef, and he said, ‘You start tomorrow.’ He was an invaluable source of information, including passing on the sage advice that I would probably have a problem with men that were on ‘the line.’ He taught me how to navigate that atmosphere. His advice boiled down to a simple statement: ‘Always lead by example and pick up the broom instead of asking someone to sweep’—advice I continue to follow to this day as I manage my own staff.”

Russ also noted that being a chef is an extremely tough profession. “You have to be strong, both physically and mentally, with the determination to come in early and stay late to get it done.”

Although challenges still remain, it’s clear that women chefs are on the rise and rising to new heights in the culinary world both here in the Lowcountry and throughout the nation—which is great news not only for women currently in the industry and future generations of women chefs to come, but to all of us lucky enough to have the opportunities to savor the fabulous cuisine prepared by innovative chefs like these four amazing women.

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