ADRIENNE CHEATHAM worked for Marcus Samuelsson and Eric Ripert; was a runner-up on Top Chef; and hosts Sunday Best, a monthly dinner series, in Harlem.
1. Name three women that inspire you, and tell us why.
Susan Tentler, my mother, forged a path through the food industry during a time when it was especially difficult for women. She didn’t allow harassment, intimidation, or threats to keep her from pushing forward and working to reach a higher level. She left college to get married and have kids. Since then, she had to work extra hard to prove herself among peers that had finished when she moved into a more corporate setting. Her work ethic and determination inspires me everyday.
In the time that I was fortunate to know Fatima Ali, she inspired me in so many ways. She was always full of positivity and passion for everything she did. She accomplished so much, but there was still so much she wanted to do. She reminded me that while we’re working hard toward our goals, you have to keep what’s important in perspective; family and loved ones, nurturing relationships, and not letting fear or doubt hold you back. She would have done so much more, and I want to honor that by achieving everything I can while I can.
Lena Richard did it all in the food industry. She was a formally trained chef who’s talent and skills made her famous. She owned restaurants, created a frozen food company, wrote cookbooks, and had a cooking segment on television. This was all during the 1920’s-1940’s in Louisiana. Her legacy shows that you can overcome almost anything and realize your dreams if you don’t let things stand in your way. She also helped me see that while you may have one goal in mind, what you’re capable of accomplishing can be so much more than you thought.
2. What is the secret to your success?
The secret to my success has been hard work. Things change frequently (in life, trends in industries, etc.) and you have to be adaptable. I set long-term goals and make decisions based on the potential to help get me there. At every step, I work my hardest to make sure that more opportunities follow that will lead to another step in the direction I want to go.
3. If you were going to pass on one piece of advice to a young woman, what would it be?
There is so much advice I’d want to pass on that makes it hard to decide on one piece! One very important thing is to let go of fear. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something; don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself or others; don’t be afraid to be a leader; and don’t be afraid to be the best.
4.In the fight for equality, what area needs the most attention?
In the fight for women’s equality, what needs the most attention is how we see women that are different from ourselves and how we treat each other as a result. It’s a subtle thing that takes the humanity out of our interactions. When we only see what’s different (race, etc.), we become blind to what we have in common—we lose the ability to relate and acknowledge them as a woman with hopes, fears, responsibilities, that also face some of the same challenges that we do. If you can’t see aspects of yourself in someone, there’s a tendency to overlook them or worse, dismiss their value. We have to be aware of this because uplifting women and gaining equality won’t happen if we can’t do it among ourselves.
5. What are you most proud of in your career?
In my career, there’s a lot that I still want to accomplish but a lot that I’m proud of. Most of all, I’m proud that I followed my passion despite being scary and difficult; and even when the path was hazy, I worked hard to be better at my craft knowing that it would lead me to where I wanted to go.