Chef John Folse Culinary Institute to Screen Award-Winning Documentary on Women in the Industry

THIBODAUX, La. — The Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University will host a screening of an award-winning documentary that examines why only seven percent of head chefs and restaurant owners are women when the majority of culinary students are female.

In her directorial debut, Joanna James’s film interweaves candid insights from world-renowned female chefs with a central narrative of a small-town restaurateur, Valerie James, who is also Joanna’s mother. Valerie details in both heart-wrenching and inspiring moments how she remains steadfastly focused on doing what she loves – a mission she has relentlessly pursued while raising two kids with the odds stacked mightily against her.

“I made the documentary because I was inspired to share my mother’s story, what she faced as a woman in the industry,” James said. “I realized when I started making the film that my mother’s story represented so many women going through similar experiences.”

Kicking off March 1 in New York, the award-winning film will be screened 12 times across 11 states during Women’s History Month.

Throughout the tour, James is taking time to recognize local women in the food and beverage industry who have made an impact in their field. Legendary New Orleans chef, author, television host, Leah Chase, the Queen of Creole Cuisine and owner of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, will receive a lifetime achievement award.

The event will be at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26 in the Mary and Al Danos Theater, and will consist of a reception with an open bar and appetizers prepared by local chefs followed by a screening of the 74-minute film. Immediately afterward, a panel of leading women chefs from South Louisiana will discuss ways in which we can make an impact.  

“The ironic part about this discussion is that most culinary programs, like the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute, have predominantly women enrollees, yet professionally those numbers don’t match,” James said. “That’s what the film is all about. What can we do, all of us together, to create a level playing field.”

Panelists include Kristen Essig, chef and owner of Coquette in New Orleans; Katie O’Hara, Nicholls alum and pastry chef at Mopho and Maypop in New Orleans; Anne Milneck, Nicholls alum and owner of Red Stick Spice Co. in Baton Rouge; and Samantha Love, Nicholls alum and assistant executive property chef at Caesars Entertainment Corporation in Baltimore, Maryland.

Culinary instructor and longtime New Orleans culinary columnist, Chef Marcelle Bienvenu will emcee the event.

“We’re excited to be able to host this documentary,” said department head, Chef John Kozar. “Our enrollment at the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute is more than 65 percent female, so we have made it a priority to showcase the success of our alumni and other women in the workforce. That’s why we started and continue the Empowered Women Chefs Series, which brings in successful female chefs to connect with our students.”

To view a trailer for the documentary, visit

Tickets are $40 for the cocktail reception, the screening and the panel, or $20 for the screening and the panel. To purchase tickets, visit


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