We sat down with Breanne Butler and Adriana Urbina, Co-Founders of “The Table”. We are excited to be sharing their story for International Women’s Day as they are two women truly striving to connect and empower all women around the world. Adriana and Breanne met while working at a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York City. They have created a name for themselves in the activism and culinary worlds. After working their way up as chefs and facing the challenges of inequality and harassment along the way, they decided to create “The Table,” a culinary and hospitality platform that provides opportunities to empower and support women in the food industry and create a seat for more women at the table.
Adriana is a three-time winner of the Food Network’s television show “Chopped.” She is the only Latin-American female chef to have won the title.Beyond her work in the kitchen, Urbina is also a passionate activist. Her ongoing mission is to use her unique culinary expertise as a voice to shine a light on meaningful causes that support immigration reform, women’s rights, and aid to those in need in her home country of Venezuela
Breanne is a chef, activist, and women’s advocate. She became known throughout the food industry as an innovative pastry chef. She used her strength in the kitchen to organize more than 5 million people around the world as one of co-founders of Women’s March. She is an advocate for women in the food industry and on the forefront of national, political, and social issues.
“We want to change this industry to create a better environment for the women working in it. When women have access to a network, they feel supported and empowered. They absolutely thrive.”
Adriana, where are you from, and when did you get started in the food industry?
I have been working in the food industry for the past 11 years. I started when I was 15 working in kitchens. It was my passion. I started cooking thanks to my dad. He loved cooking and always encouraged me to cook with him. I moved to NYC in 2011, and then launched a pop-up and private dining company named Tepuy Dining, as well as held the title of executive chef at the James Beard-award winning Nolita eatery, De Maria. I was born in Caracas, Venezuela, into a family of architects and artists. Combining my natural eye for design and personal passion for all things food, I decided to pursue a culinary career and refined my culinary skills at international culinary programs including L’Ecole de Cuisine Alain Ducasse in France and Sumito Estévez’s Instituto Culinario Caracas in Venezuela, before serving as an apprentice at Spain’s Michelin 3-star restaurant, Martín Berasategui as well as working my way through several Michelin restaurants in NYC.
Adriana, were you excited to move to New York City?
I never imagined my life in the United States because it’s so different from Venezuela and Europe, but it happened and now I absolutely love it. Finally, I found a restaurant that helped me with my visa and that’s where I met Breanne. I was in the savory department, and she was working in the pastry department. That was my first restaurant experience in the US. After working at several Michelin-starred restaurants in New York City, I felt a need to cook food that was true to who I am and that’s Venezuelan food. Also, I wanted to combine my passion for Venezuelan food with giving back to my country and that’s when I decided to do pop-up dinners, where I partnered with a non-profit organization called “Acción por Venezuela” to bring food to kids in Venezuela in need. Each ticket allowed us to feed a kid for a month.
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
When did you meet Breanne?
We met working at Rouge Tomate in New York City. Breanne was always doing her own thing, and I was always amazed by how driven and passionate she was. I was hesitant about going on “Chopped, “ but I pushed through and ended up winning three times, which opened a lot of doors for me. I was the executive chef at a couple of restaurants, but I wanted to do something bigger, which is how the idea of The Table came about. Breanne and I got back in touch, and we started properly formulating this idea.
What was the largest challenge you faced with moving to the U.S.?
The biggest challenge was the language barrier. My English was not perfect when I first arrived, and then being a woman, an immigrant, and not speaking the best English, I think was sort of a hindrance on my success. I had a catering company in Venezuela, but it is totally different doing it in a different country.
Breanne, where are you from, and how did you get started in the kitchen?
I am from Detroit, Michigan. I have been in the kitchen from a young age. My mom’s side is Spanish and cooking is big on her side of the family. My grandma on my dad’s side was always baking cakes for family members and friend’s birthdays. She showed me how to bake a cake professionally when I was 16. It was the only thing I was better at than my sister, so I said “I’m going to run with this.” I just started baking cakes all the time. People started buying them for a variety of events.
Breanne What did you study in school? Did you bake in college?
In high school, I got a scholarship for dual-enrollment at a community college, so I would take classes there during high school. I thought I wanted to be an accountant. I failed it. I ended up doing all of these basic classes in college because I was bad at accounting and didn’t know what I wanted to do. The last semester of my senior year I took a baking class for fun, and I loved it and started spending a lot of time on it. I was in a room of 30-40 men in this baking class, and I realized, “Wait a second. I’m in culinary school and had no idea.”
Breanne, after college, did you move straight to New York?
I did move quickly after. I started working at a bakery in Detroit. At that time Detroit was in the economic crisis. People were struggling to pay mortgages, let alone buy a cake from me. I decided I wanted to move to New York, so I applied for jobs and the next day my phone started ringing with people asking me to be in New York that weekend. I called in sick to my job in Detroit and used my savings account to buy a one-way ticket and worked that weekend.
I got my first restaurant job at Rouge Tomate a month later and, after 18 months, I became the pastry sous chef, which was a big accomplishment for me. I also met Adrianna there and became close with her because there weren’t a lot of women working there and a lot of us have kept in touch since.
Breanne, when did you start working at Facebook?
I got a Facebook message from Facebook themselves asking me to be their pastry chef in the New York City office because they were opening a new office. I thought it was a prank, but I responded and went to the interview. I was hired. I worked there for just about two years and built up a good reputation to the point where people from all offices wanted to come to the New York office to try my desserts. Even Mark Zuckerberg would give me shoutouts for favorite baked goods. After leaving Facebook, I decided to start my own business.
Breanne, you baked for the Hillary Clinton campaign. How did you feel after the election?
The day of the election, I was getting ready to celebrate at the Hillary Clinton party. When the news came out, I was devastated. I think I was so hopeful because I thought if a woman held the highest power in our country, women in management would be taken more seriously, too. I went on Facebook, and I saw a post for a march in Washington D.C. for women the day after the inauguration, and it only had less than 100 people going and a few likes. I said, I need to be a part of this, so I reached out.
Did you stop baking when you planned the first Women’s March?
I took a big risk by throwing everything into making this march happen. It was crazy to a lot of people that knew me. I believed this was more important; people will always want cookies and will always want food. So I ended up taking two years off of my career, and I honestly didn’t think about it at all. I was just in the moment of helping women and this momentum around not just political change, but social and cultural change as well. And I had the privilege of traveling all around the world to meet all of the women that were empowered by the Women’s March, which also showed me that we, as humans, are more connected than divided.
Why did you decide to go back into the food industry?
While I was leading the Kavanaugh protests, I decided I had to go back into the food industry and take my knowledge that I had acquired from organizing the Women’s March and bring it back into the food industry. Unlike the #MeToo movement that I had helped with the year before, the Kavanaugh protest resonated with me in a deeper way. There is a lot of harassment in the food industry, specifically toward women of color and immigrant women, and seeing and hearing all the stories of assault experiences was really triggering for me. It made sense for us to start The Table, and we were really inspired by the quote, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” We are women of action, we try to create change. And we want to encourage other women in our industry to do the same and make sure all women are being included, making a fair wage, and not being harrassed. Fifty-two percent of Americans work in the food industry at some point in their life and a large percentage of them are women of color. This is an industry that touches so many women.
Breanne, you have had an incredible career, but you were undecided in high school. What advice would you give to others that are undecided about their interests in high school or college?
It may sound like a cliche, but it’s true: follow your heart. Find that passion. There is no dollar sign that can really pay to have that feeling of just loving what you’re doing and feeling inspired and that’s what’s going to get you through your hard times. That’s why I stayed in food, because I love it, even though it’s really hard.
You can carve out your own path. There is no one telling you what you can do. I feel like I’m kind of experiencing it right now. I’m involved in this activism feminist movement, but I’m also a chef. I love cooking, but I’m in this activism space now, and I don’t want to leave it. Thankfully, I am able to fuse those two interests together with The Table.
Adriana, what mindset do you have day-to-day that keeps you driven?
I would say that my huge passion for cooking is the first thing that keeps me motivated as well as helping people through my food. My family is a huge motivator also and, for some reason, when things get harder, I get more motivated.
What is The Table, and where do you see it in a few years?
Adriana: The Table’s mission is to highlight and uplift women, particularly women of color in the food industry to give them a platform to shine, provide paid opportunities and be treated fairly. We are hosting events in New York, San Francisco, LA, and are planning different events from dinners to industry nights and more community style events. We will be traveling around the U.S. and hope to go global soon.
We want to change this industry to create a better environment for the women working in it. When women have access to a network, they feel supported and empowered. They absolutely thrive.
Can men attend your dinners?
Absolutely. We need men to be part of this conversation. We need them as allies, we need them to help and listen. We have had men offer resources, connections, and sponsorship. These are the kind of men that show there is change happening.
Adriana, what does it mean for you to be powerful?
Believe in yourself. It will open so many doors and is the foundation to success. If you don’t, no one else will.
Breanne, what does it mean for you to be powerful?
Life is going to knock you down. There will be moments when you are riding high and that same day you will feel like you’re worthless and can’t move forward, but just keep getting back up. Being able to pick yourself up and choosing to be resilient – that is power to me.