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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A Bay Area Rarity: An All-Female Team Leads a Top-Tier Restaurant


It's no secret that the restaurant industry, like far too many others for far too long, has been dominated by men holding most of the positions of power.   If you look across the Bay Area's restaurant community, you will find disproportionately low percentages of female executive chefs, female sommeliers, and females heading up the front of the house – notwithstanding the availability of plenty of qualified and talented candidates.   And when you examine the higher-end establishments - well, the numbers there get even worse.

That is why I was particularly excited to read about an outstanding and, in my view, momentous development over at the Hotel Palomar.   Sara Berman has recently been hired as the new maitre d' for the hotel's flagship restaurant, making Fifth Floor the only top-tier Bay Area restaurant – and quite possibly the only local restaurant in any class – with women holding all four of the key positions.   Specifically, Melissa Perello continues to serve as Executive Chef, Marika Doob as Pastry Chef, and Emily Wines as Sommelier.

Incidentally, Melissa Perello herself is an amazing success story and a real talent to keep an eye on in the coming years.   She was named Executive Chef at Charles Nob Hill in 2001 at the tender age of 24, she was identified as one of the Chronicle's Rising Star Chefs for 2002, and she was selected as one of Food & Wine Magazine's Best New Chefs for 2004.   The James Beard Foundation also nominated Perello for its Rising Star Chef of the Year award for three consecutive years – 2003, 2004, and 2005.   Perello's menu at Charles Nob Hill was already very good, but she is now doing even more remarkable things at Fifth Floor.

In many ways, it is disheartening that – in this day and age – it is still actually newsworthy when an all-female team such as Fifth Floor's happens to come along.   Yet, at the same time, I feel some sense of satisfaction upon witnessing this all-too-rare occurrence, and some sense of hope that the day will come when it will be commonplace and unremarkable.   For now, I simply commend Fifth Floor and the Hotel Palomar for assembling such an impressive team.

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