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Inside the Closed-Door Meeting of Portland Women Chefs

“Portland needs diversity,” says Naomi Pomeroy

Naomi Pomeroy
Facebook/Naomi Pomeroy

A group of women chefs and restaurateurs recently held a private meeting. “I ran through every email address I had,” Naomi Pomeroy of Beast tells Eater. “I wrote, ‘Take the night off, and I’ll cook.’”

Each female chef or restaurateur was invited to bring one plus-one, and Pomeroy invited local community leaders and nonprofits to give talks. “It wasn’t organized,” she says. “It was about being together.”

Around 75 people arrived to Union Pine, which donated its space for the gathering. A jazz band played, and of course, despite Pomeroy’s invite, people came loaded with food and drink, from chocolates by Alma Chocolates to cakes by Sweetheart Bakery. “Everyone was so excited to see each other,” says Pomeroy.

Once the discussions began, it became clear many women were facing the same challenges in the turbulent political climate since president Trump was elected. They used a big white board to create a list of those constraints. “Everyone brainstormed solutions,” Pomeroy said.

At the forefront of their concerns: balancing the need to become a spokesperson for their beliefs without alienating patrons. Others shared such challenges as finding the resources to donate to charitable and nonprofit causes during what is typically the slow season for restaurants. Many chefs and restaurateurs agreed it was already difficult to care for their families and themselves while working in the hospitality industry without taking on additional causes.

Pomeroy says she was struck by one talk in particular, given by Jo Ann Hardesty, the president of the Portland branch of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). “She said she’s been doing church work in suburbs to explain the NAACP,” says Pomeroy.

Hardesty told Eater that she explained one particular idea to the group: It’s about being comfortable with being uncomfortable. “Change doesn’t take place when everyone’s singing kumbaya,” she says. “We have to be willing to have conversations with people who think differently than we do.”

A good strategy for doing this is to ask a lot of questions, she explained. “When I’m speaking with someone I’m pretty sure stands on the opposite side of the spectrum, I’ll say, ‘Tell me more. How did you come to that conclusion?’ That way, it’s not dismissing someone because they think differently from you, and you can try to understand where they’re coming from.”

Moving forward, the group intends to meet every six weeks or so, and Pomeroy says she welcomes more women chefs and restaurateurs to join. The goal is to come together and take action. “What if we all joined forces and fed a homeless shelter, for instance?” says Pomeroy. “Portland needs diversity.”

Beast

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