Meet the Mentees: The Future of Female Chefs in Kentucky

Meet the Mentees: The Future of Female Chefs in Kentucky

Photo credit Sara Babcock Sarandipity

Meet the 2019 LEE Initiative Mentees

The Future of Female Chefs in Kentucky



If you’re looking for the future faces of Kentucky cuisine, look no further than The Women Chefs Initiative. 

Created by Edward Lee and Lindsey Ofcacek, The Women Chefs Initiative is a six-month leadership development program for aspiring young women chefs. It is one of the two programs under the LEE Initiative, which stands for Let’s Empower Employment. 

The program gives women chefs in Kentucky the opportunity to do mentorships with some of the most successful women chefs around the country. 

Lindsey Ofcacek

This year’s program included a trip to the FAB Symposium in Charleston, and visits to Jeni’s Ice Cream and Chow Chow. It will end with a final collaborative dinner at The James Beard Foundation in New York City at the beginning of September. 

“Kentucky has a close knit culinary community and I believe small programs like this will ensure it continues to thrive and grow,” says Ofcacek. “This program reaffirms the power of community for me.” 

If being the director of the LEE Initiative wasn’t enough, Ofcacek works at 610 Magnolia, raises a family, and advocates for women and minorities in the industry. 


“Lindsey is the founder of The Women Chefs Initiative. The program is successful because of her tireless work and dedication to empowering young chefs in Kentucky. Her vision and energy for the LEE Initiative is what drives the program forward on a daily basis.”

— Edward Lee

“What’s significant about the LEE Initiative, compared to more typical programs that try to address inequities by upping the quota of individual women stars, is its focus on nurturing internal structures to radically change the toxic environments most women in foodways work in. It does that by forming connections and conversations among women in the business–a web, as it were, to support systemic change. Lindsey’s experience as a woman in those worlds informs this, of course, but so does her personal commitment to understanding that relationships, not simply policies, are the key to legitimate and lasting change.”

Ronni Lundy


Ofcacek describes this year’s group of mentees as more than women rising in the ranks of their field, “they’re young, talented chefs who are advocates for change in the community and demonstrate strong leadership skills.”

This year’s group of mentees are much younger than last year’s group. But that didn’t keep each of them from sharing their best piece of advice, reminding us that we all have our weird food habits, and giving us hope for the future of the industry. 

We learned there’s a shared love for a grandmother’s cooking, we’ll never have as much fun in Charleston as they did, and if you’re not at booking a flight to New York for the Pride of Kentucky dinner next month, then what are you doing?  


Miriam Martinez-Prisciliano

West Main Crafting Co., Lexington, KY

Photo credit Sara Babcock Sarandipity

Miriam Martinez-Prisciliano might be Lexington’s best kept secret when it comes to pastry chefs. From decorating cakes at Martine’s Pastries, leading the dessert program at Middle Fork Kitchen Bar, and working as the pastry chef at Corto Y Lima, shame on you if you don’t know her. 

She’s currently a chef at West Main Crafting Co., where she heads the bread and pastry program. She writes the seasonal dessert menus and bakes all their in-house bread. Yes, she has your dream job. 

But don’t forget her side hustle: Tamales of the Valley, a pop-up concept that sells authentic Mexican tamales and made-from-scratch Mexican beverages. She hopes to expand her business to a permanent location in Lexington.

She found a love for pastry and cake decorating while working at Martine’s several years ago. Her passion and skills inspired her to start her first business decorating cakes, Prisciliano Cakes. So, it only makes sense her best piece of advice for another female chef is to do what makes you happy. 

The LEE Initiative has given her the opportunity to work with women leaders who inspire her to continue to work hard and achieve her goals. 

“My favorite moment of this program was going to the FAB workshop in Charleston. I listened to inspirational women share their failures and success stories. Hearing all they went through has given me hope for a better future in my career.”

With the Pride of Kentucky dinner coming up, she’s looking forward to the opportunity to work in the James Beard House kitchen and experience New York City for the first time.   



Last day on earth – what city are you eating in, where are you eating, and what are you eating?

In Mexico at my aunt’s house eating fresh salsa with beans and fresh tortillas.

If you could open your dream restaurant, what would you name it and what would you serve?

My dream restaurant would be a small casual and cozy cafe/coffee shop called The Valley where I serve slightly elevated authentic Mexican food.

Ace readers will be surprised to learn your weirdest food habit is…

I enjoy eating really spicy food, like really spicy food to the point I have tears rolling down my face.

Favorite ingredient to work with?

Corn, with so many varieties of corn they can be used for many dishes. From making tamales and tortillas to incorporating them into a dessert.

First time at West Main Crafting Co., what would you recommend?

Try the filet mignon and our grilled carrots. 



Tonya Mays

Great Bagel, Lexington, KY

Ladies and gentlemen, the woman, the myth and the legend behind the infamous baked goods and pastries at Great Bagel. 

Photo credit Sara Babcock Sarandipity

Tonya Mays is the pastry chef at Great Bagel, at least for now, until some wise customer convinces her to open Great Cinnamon Roll, the cinnamon roll sister bakery to Great Bagel. It’s inevitable. 

Mays graduated from Sullivan University in Kentucky, but her passion for food comes from being raised by her grandmother in a house where you gathered around meals. Her talent doesn’t stop at pastries. She and her husband own Kismet, a pop-up concept they hope to grow into a small restaurant. 

Being a part of the LEE Initiative has given Tonya new opportunities along with a new level of confidence.  “I have developed this new voice —well maybe a louder voice than before. I feel stronger in a way because I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and hearing the stories of so many strong empowering women in the culinary field.”

It was impossible for her to name only one person who inspires her in the industry. But if you haven’t caught on yet, Lexington is full of inspirational women.  “I have been blessed with an empowering community of women here in Lexington. I know that whatever and wherever my path takes me in my career and in life, I am not alone in it.”

Mays says they’re moving forward with a women’s dinner series and a third dinner is in the works. These events feature chefs in the area and proceeds go to local charities. 

As cliché as she thinks it sounds, her best piece of advice is straightforward: you can literally do, accomplish, and be anything. “I know everyone tells us that when we’re growing up, but sometimes it’s hard to see your potential and your strength. You must see it, you must want it. So, work harder, be smarter, and never doubt yourself. Trust the process.”

Are you surprised her favorite memory of the program was the trip to Charleston?

“We had multiple flight delays and ended up renting a car from Georgia to drive the rest of the way to make it in time. It was literally the crack of dawn when we finally made it to our hotel and we were right on the beach. First thought is sleep, but nope, we all went down to the ocean and jumped straight in.”

Mays is most excited for The James Beard House in its entirety. “It is the one place that is on every chef’s bucket list. I can’t wait to be in the establishment that has hosted so many legends.”  



Best menu hack at Great Bagel?

You can ask for more cream cheese frosting for your cinnamon roll… and for it to be heated up. (Sorry to the FOH staff at work.)

Last day on earth – what city are you eating in, where are you eating, and what are you eating?

Easy. Lexington. Arirang Garden. Ordering the Korean Combo for the grill, Jap Chae, all the banchan and Soju.

If you could open your dream restaurant, what would you name it and what would you serve?

The dream is Kismet, of course. A small deli where I am making bread daily and my husband Philip is curing meats. At night, we sling dan dan noodles to the bar crowd and everyone is happy.

Ace readers will be surprised to learn your weirdest food habit is…

I smell everything before I eat it, I have done it since I was a kid.

No one should visit Kentucky and leave without eating…

My granny’s cooking.

Favorite ingredient to work with?

Lemons. I love citrus, the smell, the flavor. It does well with so many flavors.



Breanna Baker

610 Magnolia, Louisville, KY

Breanna Baker does it all. From pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Sullivan University, cooking at 610 Magnolia, and managing events at The Wine Studio, it’s surprising she even has time to be a mentee.

Photo credit Sara Babcock Sarandipity

Baker’s best piece of advice on pursuing your dreams is to work for what you want, but don’t sacrifice your life for your job.  “Push yourself, but take time off work to maintain your health and personal life. Most importantly, do not compromise your vision or your goals; believe in yourself because you are the only person who can help you succeed.”

Baker learned about the LEE Initiative through her job at 610 Magnolia. She was inspired by the accomplishments of the previous class of mentees and knew this program would benefit her career in the future. 

“Prior to the program, I always felt like I was behind or that I needed to be better to succeed. Now I feel more confident with where I am in my journey because I know I am just beginning and I have a lot more to learn.”

Her favorite experience thus far has been her mentorship with Chef Brooke Williamson in Los Angeles. It was her first time flying on a plane and traveling farther west than Chicago.

She returned home with new recipes and ideas that she is taking into Pride of Kentucky 2019.  “The dish I am making is based on family recipes elevated by what I’ve learned thus far. I am excited to share my story with the guests.”  



Last meal on earth – what city are you eating in, where are you eating, and what are you eating?

I would go home to eat my grandmother’s chicken and dumplings or chicken pot pie. As much as I would love a fancy meal at a fine dining restaurant, I must stick with my roots and have my favorite comfort food. 

If you could open your dream restaurant, what would you name it and what would you serve?

A southern style restaurant called “Ruthann” featuring family recipes. “Ruthann” is my grandmother’s last name and mine. Growing up she taught me how to cook, so naming the restaurant “Ruthann” would be my way of honoring her while still having my name on it.

Ace readers will be surprised to learn your weirdest food habit is…

I will put hot sauce on nearly anything, including fruit!

No one should visit Kentucky and leave without eating…

A hot brown. Those with a sweet tooth should try a Derby Pie…with a side of bourbon, of course.

Favorite ingredient to work with?

Anything that we grow in the greenhouse at 610 Magnolia. I have a love for gardening that stemmed from maintaining a garden with my mom growing up. I believe gardening increases my respect for a product. When developing a dish, I focus toward highlighting the flavor of the ingredients. 



Emie Dunagan 

The 502 Bar and Bistro, Louisville, KY

Photo credit Sara Babcock Sarandipity

If anyone has grown up with a passion for baking, it’s Emie Dunagan. At 15 years old, she opened her own business, Em’s Delights Bakery, where she made custom cakes and sold baked goods to local companies. At 18 years old, she started culinary school at Sullivan University where she was first introduced to the restaurant world. Finding the restaurant scene to be more thrilling and challenging than her small bakery, Emie closed Em’s Delights to pursue a career as a pastry chef. 

She currently works at The 502 Bar and Bistro as the pastry chef, creating and managing the dessert menu, pasta production, and the bread program. 

Thanks to the LEE Initiative, Dunagan is moving to Chicago in the fall to work under Mindy Segal, who was her externship mentor provided through the LEE program. 

Asked about her biggest role model in the industry, she says it’s Lindsey Ofcacek, adding “I honestly cannot think of a more badass and inspiring woman than her.”

Dunagan’s best piece of advice comes from Ofcacek. “She has grilled into our minds that we are not female chefs, but chefs. We are capable of anything we put our minds to.” 

With that, Dunagan adds her own words of wisdom, “Whatever it is you want to do, do it wholeheartedly. Work hard, be diligent, but also take care of yourself. Don’t burn out.”

Her best (and worst) experience of the program so far was their trip to Charleston, South Carolina for the FAB Symposium. Between multiple delayed flights and long layovers, the group found themselves stranded in Atlanta for the night.  “Instead of waiting until the next night to fly out, the five of us and Lindsey rented a minivan, and we drove from Atlanta to Charleston. We left around 1 am and arrived around 6 am. We drove straight to the beach and all jumped in the ocean. It was a crazy experience, but one I will never forget.” 

She’s terrified about the upcoming Pride of Kentucky dinner event in New York, but excited and honored to work at The Beard House. The most exciting part for her is that her Nana and Papa are flying up to New York City to attend the event. 

“It makes me tear up thinking about it. They are the ones who helped me in a rough patch in my childhood and saw my passion for baking. I owe them everything I have accomplished in my career, and if it wasn’t for them I would not be where I am today.”  



Last meal on earth – what city are you eating in, where are you eating, and what are you eating?

Chason & The Dessert Bar in NYC. I haven’t had the chance to eat there yet, but it is on my bucket list. I would have their dessert tasting menu, whatever was on it. I am so intrigued by how they run their service, present and create their dishes.

If you could open your dream restaurant, what would you name it and what would you serve?

I would name my dream restaurant JUX or Juxtapose (a place or deal with close together for contrasting effect). It would be a dessert tasting menu restaurant that serves desserts executed with proper techniques but interesting presentation and flavor combinations to “contrast for conversation”. 

Ace readers will be surprised to learn your weirdest food habit is…

I eat a lot of tacos. Oh, or some people find it weird that when I eat fresh strawberries I like to put fresh ground peanut butter on them?

No one should visit Kentucky and leave without eating…

Weisenberger grits or Makers Mark special/private select bourbons 

Favorite ingredient to work with?

Chocolate. There are so many ways to utilize it and manipulate it. You can make filled tempered chocolate candies, brownies, cakes, showpiece sculptures. The possibilities are limitless.



Katie Smith 

Pizza Lupo, Louisville, KY

Katie Smith is the sous chef at Pizza Lupo in Louisville, Kentucky. She’s a strong believer in supporting Kentucky farmers, using sustainable ingredients, and eating ranch on pizza. The latter of which we could do without. 

Photo credit Sara Babcock Sarandipity

Smith has been cooking professionally for over seven years. Before Lupo, she was the chef de cuisine at Holy Grale in Louisville. With a passion for using cooking to benefit the community, she works with local organizations like Everything Will Be Okay Project and the Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

Smith was inspired to apply to the LEE Initiative program by Jen Rock, a 2018 mentee. This program has given Smith the empowerment and confidence to believe in herself and what she’s capable of achieving in her career. 

“I’ve had so many opportunities to meet and connect with amazing women chefs, many of which are role models of mine, and it’s really pushed me to put myself out there and be confident.”

Her mentor through the program was Ashley Christiensen, who Smith admires for her restraint and mission with food.

“Sometimes it feels like chefs create certain dishes for the sole purpose of showing off technique; Ashley’s food resonates with me because every dish she prepares can seem so simple, but the attention to detail, respect for high quality ingredients, and dedication to upholding high standards in her restaurants really sets her apart.”

Besides Christiensen, Smith looks up to Lindsey Ofcacek as a mentor. “She is such a strong, kind, and badass woman, and I totally want to be her when I grow up. She has helped us every step of the way and I’ve learned so much from her.”

Smith’s best piece of advice to other female chefs is to put yourself out there. “You can’t wait around for it to happen to you, you have to go do it. If you feel like you’re not ready then spend all your time researching and staging. Find a mentor. Don’t be afraid to ask other chefs, especially other women chefs, for help, advice, or even recipes.”

By the time we talked to her, she knew she wouldn’t be alone in her favorite memory being the FAB Symposium in Charleston.

“We rented a van and drove six hours through the night from Atlanta to Charleston. We drove straight to the beach right as the sun was rising over the water. It was the first time I’ve seen the ocean in probably ten years. We were relieved to have finally be in Charleston. I remember being so happy I was there with these amazing women and excited about everything that was to come.”

She’s most excited for the opportunity to cook with the other mentees as a group during Pride of Kentucky dinner 2019. event, adding “I have so much respect for them and have learned so much from all of them.”  



As a sous chef at a pizza eatery, you must be asked, what’s your take on pineapple on pizza?

Ha! I love pineapple on certain pizza styles, but something about it seems a little weird for Neapolitan. Can’t say I’ve given it a shot though. Maybe someday Chef Max Balliet will let us do some pineapple pizza R&D.  Ranch on pizza is another story. I 100% approve of eating it with pizza.

If you could open your dream restaurant, what would you name it and what would you serve?

I think restaurant names and branding are incredibly important and need to be well thought out. I would love to open a Berliner-style doner kebab concept. I tried doner in Berlin a few years ago and really wish something similar existed here in Kentucky.

No one should visit Kentucky and leave without eating…


Favorite ingredient to work with?

Tomatoes! Tomatoes are basically a fruit and vegetable, which makes them incredibly versatile. There’s so many ways you can prepare them and so many varieties. Eating them sliced with nothing, but sea salt and good olive oil is one of my favorite snacks.

If you had to define Kentucky’s culinary landscape in one word it would be…

Southern. Our food identity is totally traditional Southern cuisine.


The 2019 Women Chefs Initiative will conclude with two final dinner events.

Photo credit Sara Babcock Sarandipity

Ashbourne Farms is hosting Artisan’s & Epicures to benefit the Lee Initiative on Saturday, August 24. There will be a bourbon and culinary tasting experience led by Chef Ouita Michel followed by a family-style dinner created by Edward Lee, Kristen Smith, Patrick Roney, and Ashbourne culinary team. The 2019 LEE Initiative mentees will prepare the hors d’oeuvres.

The Pride of Kentucky 2019 dinner is Thursday, September 5 at The Beard House in New York City. “Cooking at the James Beard House is an honor at any stage of your career,” says Ofcacek. “I cannot wait to see the mentees put the skills they have been working on and execute their beautiful menu as a team. I am confident they will represent Kentucky well.”

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