For powerful reasons — both good and bad — we are in a defining time for women.
As such, “A Woman’s Place: The Inventors, Rumrunners, Lawbreakers, Scientists, and Single Moms Who Changed the World with Food” (Little, Brown and Company) couldn’t have debuted at a more appropriate moment.
It shines a bright light on the enterprising, pioneering women in food who more often than never received the recognition they deserved. They include such icons as Lena Richard, an African-American women who grew an empire of restaurants, cookbooks and even had a television snow — all during the height of segregation in America; and Clara Steele, who started a family dairy in Marin County that went on to produce the highest volume of cheese in California in the mid-1800s.
Interspersed throughout the book are 10 recipes from notable female culinarians.
I had never heard of Esther Eng (1914-1970), but because of this book I now know what a pivotal figure she was. An openly gay Chinese woman, Eng was a film director turned restaurateur who grew up in San Francisco before moving to New York. It was there that she opened Bo Bo’s, a Chinese restaurant where Chinese-American actors could find steady work and work on their English when they weren’t making movies. The food was so amazing that none other than Craig Claiborne praised it. In so doing, Eng managed to break through and rise to the top of two characteristically male-dominated industries.
Thinking about that achievement makes her “Chinese Five-Spice Braised Beef Short Ribs” all the more transportive.