D.C. opened Centrolina, the city’s first restaurant with an all-female senior team, in spring of 2015. Head Chef and founder Amy Brandwein designed the restaurant with the goal of combining fine Italian dining with a separate open market for patrons to stock their homes with both local and imported goods.
With her restaurant recently earning rave reviews from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today, we were thrilled for the opportunity to ask Amy Brandwein a few questions about her experiences as a badass woman in the culinary industry.
1) You’ve mentioned in past interviews that one of the harder aspects of your job has been being a woman trying to lead a kitchen of men. Can you elaborate on what you mean there?
It’s difficult to be promoted as a Chef and supervise your male colleagues who you superseded in rank on your way to the top of the leadership chain. What I’ve learned over my career as a female Chef is that most male cooks also enjoy a kitchen that is harmonious and peaceful. Women tend to lead kitchens like that.
2) In past interviews, you’ve mentioned the financial barriers you faced in getting the capital to start your restaurant, but that your friend Mary Jane Volk helped you immensely. How important was female mentorship/aid in the process of getting started, and what role do you think other women play in helping each other succeed?
It was an extremely important step to starting the path towards ownership. When I first had the idea that I wanted to open my own place, I shared it with Mary Jane and she instilled within me a belief that it was possible. I think women tend to support each other’s entrepreneurial ideas, dreams and passions. There is sort of an unspoken truth that women need to help each other get ahead.
3) Centrolina appears in the heart of DC, it functions as both an Italian restaurant but also a marketplace with goods and produce from D.C. Urban Greens. Can you tell us a little about your decision to create that kind of restaurant-market combination, and why you chose to partner with an organization like DC Urban Greens?
I always wanted to share the beautiful produce and items that we get from our farmers with the general public so they can enjoy fresh food at home. I use the products available for sale in the market in my restaurant cooking. Many times, the customers try to replicate our menu items at home. I work with DCUG because they do valuable work in their community to increase access to fresh food via their weekly farmer’s market and CSA program.
4) You have said in the past that you don’t want Centrolina to be a “political restaurant” but you’ve also been pretty vocal about your support of things like the Women’s March. Do you think the space you’ve created can transcend the political divide in DC and our country at large?
Yes I think it can and it does. We have had prominent members of both parties come and dine with us because they enjoy our food, service and ambiance. My political beliefs are my own and I take great pains to say that the most important thing in today’s political climate is to be respectful of everyone else’s political beliefs. We haven’t had any issues of intolerance.
5) What would you say to any of our young female readers just getting started who also dream of owning their own restaurants?
First, work in one! And many more before even considering a restaurant of your own. Understand that hospitality is a very time-consuming profession, very challenging, but ultimately rewarding.
If you’re ever in D.C. and looking for excellent Italian food made by women with a passion for giving back, be sure to check out Centrolina, the pride and joy of Amy Brandwein. The market starts serving breakfast every morning at 8 AM and the restaurant’s terracotta-clad wood oven fires up daily for lunch and dinner.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter