The Women Leading NJ Restaurants Forward

Meet five of the state’s top chefs, who just so happen to be women.

From left: Leia Gaccione, Aishling Stevens, Martyna Krowicka and Ariane Duarte.

Women work in every part of the restaurant industry, from bussers and servers to hostesses and bartenders, chefs, wine importers, chocolatiers, brewers, bakers, and more. If you’re enjoying good food in the Garden State, chances are women (at least one) had a hand in it. In honor of Women’s History Month, and because New Jersey as a whole feels poised to do some serious culinary game-changing in 2019, we’re highlighting five of the state’s top chefs, who just so happen to be women. Sure, statistically these women represent a small sampling of all the female talent in Jersey food, but they’re also among the most passionate, driven, creative, disciplined, and visionary culinary leaders we have—and hope to hold onto. If this sampling proves nothing else, it’s that New Jersey’s women chefs are at the helm of the state’s culinary future.

Ariane Duarte

Ariane Duarte very quickly gets the moniker “Top Chef alum” attached to her, which is fine (and accurate, as Duarte was on the show’s fifth season). But that tends to focus things too sharply on TV, where Duarte’s actual CV extends a lot farther. The Culinary Institute of America graduate cut her chops in New York, New Jersey, Texas, and Chicago, where she worked for the late Charlie Trotter. Out on her own, Duarte made a name for herself as the executive chef of Vine in New York for five years, eventually opening up CulinAriane catering in 2006, and, after nine years, transitioning that concept (very successfully) into the casual, creative Ariane Kitchen & Bar in Verona in 2014. TV appearances have continued—she competed on “Beat Bobby Flay” in 2015—but Duarte continues to prove her passion burns alongside the fires in her kitchen.

Leia Gaccione

Leia Gaccione is doing double (closer to triple, quadruple) duty as a chef in New Jersey. She owns and operates two restaurants, South + Pine in Morristown and Central + Main in Madison, and recently hosted the documentary mini-series “Her Name is Chef” about the reality of life as a woman in food. (She profiles big names, including industry vet Elizabeth Falkner, Hillary Sterling, and the late “Top Chef” alum Fatima Ali). A graduate of the New York Restaurant School, Gaccione worked her way up New York ranks, largely in the kitchens of Bobby Flay where she worked as both chef de cuisine and executive chef. Her chosen territory, we’re happy to say, is the Garden State, though with the documentary, we wouldn’t be surprised to see her increasingly on a national stage.

Martyna Krowicka

Barely into her 30s, Martyna Krowicka has a small constellation of stellar restaurants on her CV. Before joining mentor Anthony Bucco as chef de cuisine at Felina in Ridgewood, she was running Restaurant Latour at Crystal Springs Resort (which Bucco oversaw as executive chef). And before that, Krowicka was honing her skills as sous chef at the Ryland Inn, under Bucco, and Empellón Taqueria in New York under culinary wunderkind Alex Stupak. (No wonder she was on the cover of our August 2017 issue.) A wunderkind herself (and yes, a “Chopped” champion), the Poland-born Krowicka was first inspired to cook during childhood visits to Poland, where foraging and gardening and cooking fresh eggs with her grandmother gave her an early intuition for the seductive immediacy of fresh product. One can only hope the young talent chooses to explore and refine that intuition right here in Jersey.

Maricel Presilla. Photo by Christopher Villano

Maricel Presilla

It’s possible enough can’t be said of Maricel Presilla—though we’re hoping a recent James Beard nomination for “Outstanding Chef”does a little of the heavy lifting for us. Presilla has already won three Beard Awards (Best Chef Mid-Atlantic 2012; Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America, Cookbook of the Year, 2013; Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America, Winner, 2015). The force of nature behind restaurants Cucharamama and Zafra, and Ultramarinos, her specialty foods and catering store, all in Hoboken, Presilla is also an author several times over, culinary historian, PhD (yes, technically it’s Dr. Presilla), and general thoroughbred expert in Latin and Spanish cuisines. Combine that exhaustive knowledge with a soulful, rooted approach to food and you get the kind of seminal cooking that keeps earning her James Beard attention. Awards or no, Presilla’s quiet, steady kind of success belies the fact that the Cuban-born chef is a leader not only in New Jersey but nationally, and globally. (Her perspective is nothing if not globally interconnected; we just happen to benefit closer to home.) 

Aishling Stevens

Aishling Stevens spent 11 years cooking in Australia, but we proudly (greedily) have the Jersey native back home. Not only did Stevens re-immerse herself in the Garden State culinary scene, she took the helm of the entire Crystal Springs Resort, succeeding Anthony Bucco and becoming the first female chef to oversee the resort’s multiple kitchens. Stevens started cooking at the age of 12 and has been going on strong for close to three decades now, and—whatever the continent—has made an art of mutually beneficial producer relationships. From Noosa in Queensland to the Walpole Arms in the U.K. to Crystal Springs and Restaurant Latour, Stevens cultivates genuinely, productively close partnerships with farmers and producers. As she told us just a few months ago, “it’s these types of relationships that get you excited in the kitchen.”

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