Mimi Weissenborn

Courtesy of Mimi.

Courtesy of Mimi.

Age || 30

Company Name || Vinateria

Job Title || executive Chef

Years Working At Company || 1 1/ to 2 years

Years Living In New York || 5 years in May

Social Handles || @Vinateria, @ShefMimi

Company Website || Vinateria NYC

What did you want to be as a child?

Growing up I never even THOUGHT about being a chef. In my earlier years, I wanted to be an astronaut, then in high school I wanted to be a PE teacher. That’s what I originally started to go to school for. I loved sports, being a part of a team, loved being physical, and the camaraderie. But, throughout high school, I had always cooked on the side, and when I was struggling in college I decided to transition over to culinary school. I immediately loved it.

What’s the best piece of advice you were given before striking out as a chef?

As I first the entered the industry, I didn’t really have any mentors and can’t think of any concrete advice. I can’t really say one thing that really stuck with me and one person that really guided me, but this is why this initiative [a dinner party series] of building a community has been so important to me, to have a support group of women chefs, queer chefs, etc.

How do you define success?

This is such a challenging question— so much of my career has been a fake it till you make it moment, and I think that success, in my eyes it’s ever evolving and I’m constantly changing and [my] perception of success is too. Success to me is most importantly about putting up work that you’re proud of, and of course the outside recognition — being in magazines, on TV, etc — is great, but it’s largely about the progress I’ve made and the people I’ve supported.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned since starting out?

The most important thing is to be able to reach out for help, to reach out for support, and to recognize this is not weakness. No one can do everything on their own. It’s empowering to be able to run shit by yourself, but it’s not sustainable. It’s all about building a team that you respect and trust, and that respects you.

What is your go-to motivational quote?

I don’t remember where I even saw this, but it’s: “Speak your truth, be your truth, live your truth — and go make some money off your truth while you’re at it.”

What made you interested in working at Vinateria?

I was connected through a former colleague and I loved the female empowerment at the restaurant from the owner, Yvette, and bar director Ashley and our wine director at the time, Chelsea. It felt like such a supportive place to work and they gave me the creative freedom to really spread my wings and hone in on their vision while still making it my own!

Do you have a personal motto?

Not really a motto, but I do have a tattoo of “Shef” on my arm. It’s a constant reminder of pushing forward in this male-dominated industry and of the support of all the female chefs that I’ve worked with in the past. You know something like 60% of people that graduate culinary school are women and yet so few make it to the exec chef position. It’s just this kind of personal mantra to keep pushing forward and to lift up others along the way.

Which women inspire you?

So many, but right off the bat my head goes to Adrienne Cheatham, who we did a collaboration dinner with in November. She’s been such a mentor and resource over the past few months. She’s such an amazing, classy representation of a lady boss in the industry and she’s just doing it HER way. Of course, also, Michelle Obama.

How do you overcome moments of self-doubt?

It’s really hard — I think I’ve tried to, and it’s certainly been a building process. I hold onto these moments of confidence in my career like cooking at the James Beard house and all these amazing collaboration dinners and just saying YES you are good enough, you CAN do this. Also my partner, Rebecca, has been instrumental. She is so supportive and is someone I can always bounce ideas off of, who gives me endless support but also honest feedback. It’s been crucial.

How do you handle situations where you feel overwhelmed?

When I feel overwhelmed, I try to break it down. I try to understand that no one is perfect and I like to dissect what I have to do and figure out what is realistic. You have to look at the big picture and focus on what you can handle and then figure out the rest later. Way easier said than done, but it’s a process!

How do you hope to use your platform and success to elevate others in the queer culinary community?

This is my 15th year cooking and I see the industry finally starting to change. But it’s slow and it’s really important to me to help move this industry forward and to help it evolve. I’ve been in touch with Jaynes Beard which is so great, but honestly the biggest impact that I’ve seen so far is about visibility. There are so few visible queer chefs and even fewer that are women, so just to be able to have a platform to talk freely about my experiences and struggle and hopefully inspire others is really important to me.

What are some of your goals moving forward as a chef?

To continue to work with other brilliant chefs, to collaborate, to continue to be putting out food that I’m really excited about and to constantly be learning and evolving.

What advice would you give to other women trying to enter your field?

Don’t back down. If you know something isn’t right, stand up for yourself and push forward. There will always be people around you that will support you and raise you up and you should seek that out and be the best you can be. Just hold firm in your ground, if its regarding pay or otherwise — it’s so hard, but so important!

How has your background helped you in this role?

Every single day in the industry has been informative in my role here at Vinateria. I’ve been on the line since I was 15, so the grind of the line runs in my blood. Beyond that, my different restaurant jobs have each brought different skills to my life from learning pasta-making, to bread-making, and traveling and eating. It’s been a hell of a ride so far and I’m so excited to continue to grow with this collaboration dinner series.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Sarah Fielding