The lingering fires of misogynistic ideologies still fuel the misguided opinions that place women behind the stove at home but away from restaurant kitchens. Erin Wilshire, the newly named chef de cuisine at Over-the-Rhine’s Salazar, overcame these archaic ideals, rising above the hurdles that stand between women and commercial cuisine to lead one of the few female-dominated kitchens in Cincinnati.
And, despite standing at the forefront of breached gender boundaries, she sees the progressive dynamic in the kitchen as the afterthought it should be.
“Everybody’s different, male or female,” Wilshire says. “You just have to learn how to manage personalities, not so much genders… You can learn from anybody in the kitchen.”
Wilshire’s receptive approach to both working within and managing a kitchen has proven pivotal in her swift ascent of the culinary totem pole at Salazar over the past three years.
“In every kitchen that I’ve worked in, I go in with the same mentality: just working my ass off and trying really hard to learn as much as possible and move through the kitchen,” she says. “It’s paying a lot of attention to the stations above me and working really hard to get myself set up to help other people and learn more stuff.”
A graduate of Cincinnati State’s Midwest Culinary Institute, Wilshire worked for Newport caterer eat well celebrations and feasts before joining Salazar as its first female line cook. She took on her current role as chef de cuisine in February of this year, replacing longtime chef Andy Hiner, who moved on from Salazar to accept a position at Maplewood Kitchen and Bar.
“I think that maybe a lot of females think that they may not be able to handle the heat and the stress,” Wilshire says in regard to why the industry is so male-dominated. “It’s a lot of hours; it’s a lot of work. You have to be really committed to it, male or female. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not just a job. You’re there open to close every day. You don’t have much of a social life outside of the bar at the end of the night with your friends from the kitchen.”
Since August, Meranda Weathers has worked both alongside and beneath Wilshire as a line cook. She attests to Wilshire’s appetite for learning from others.
“She’s driven, focused,” Weathers says. “It’s also kind of cool because she is willing to collaborate and listen to everyone else’s opinion rather than only focusing on her vision… She works with the rest of the personalities in the kitchen to make that (vision) come to be.”
Wilshire also leans on Salazar’s owner and executive chef, Jose Salazar, to refine her craft in the kitchen and better understand the business side of the restaurant. A key cog in Cincinnati’s rapidly expanding restaurant culture dating back to 2008, Salazar says that Wilshire’s transition from sous chef to chef de cuisine has gone swimmingly, calling her a “bad-ass young chef.”
“Erin is a smart, passionate and talented person,” he says. “Her work ethic and stamina is something that I think make her one of the best young chefs in town.”
Salazar has turned to Wilshire to reflect her strengths in the restaurant’s menu and other work behind the scenes.
“She has been instrumental in many different changes,” Salazar says. “She particularly assists me with the sweet items on the menu because I am someone who doesn’t excel at making deserts. On the savory side of the menu, she recently came up with this delicious beet and rhubarb dish with a preserved lemon vinaigrette.”
Wilshire’s dish is a component of a recent menu change, which she and Salazar had significant roles in bringing to fruition. Keeping the restaurant’s menu on a constant rotation and matching ingredient lists to the seasons are strategies the two “are big on” given their tight-knit relationship with local farmers, Wilshire says.
Weathers, who also contributed to the menu with a Samoa-inspired dessert, is specifically interested in seeing Wilshire test her talents on her own menu rather than another’s recipe.
“It’s cool to finally see her put onto the menu versus onto the plate,” Weathers says, “because I’ve seen her put herself onto the plate within another chef’s perspective, but I think it will be interesting to see her cook the food that she imagines.”
Salazar will run off the recent menu change for the foreseeable future, which is expected to be the first of many with “Ms. Erin Wilshire” penned at the bottom.
Salazar is located at 1401 Republic St., Over-the-Rhine. More info: salazarcincinnati.com.