With artful menus and inventive cocktails, Four Seasons chefs and mixologists are reimagining dishes and drinks in a way that’s both creative and confident – and they’re winning prestigious honours, like Michelin stars (27 at last count).
Among those award-winning chefs are remarkable women eager to help Four Seasons introduce guests to new destinations through local flavours. They join a roster of inspiring women – adventure guides, hospitality directors, general managers and more – who help make Four Seasons shine.
Here, in honour of International Women’s Day on March 8, a handful of them share the ingredients for their success.
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL NEW YORK DOWNTOWN
Maria Tampakis grew up watching women cook. She spent summers in Greece, where her grandmother prepared dish after dish to feed her large family. Back home in Brooklyn, her mother was a pastry chef and culinary instructor, creating works of art with puff pastry.
It’s no surprise, then, that Tampakis gravitated towards a culinary career.
“My grandmother has always been a rock star chef, cooking for the masses and making sure everyone was always well fed,” she says. “And my mother has been a constant support and inspiration.”
Explore the flavours of New York
Tampakis trained under Michelin-starred chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal, a molecular gastronomy pioneer. As she honed her strengths, she gained an appreciation for the perspective female chefs can bring to the table.
“Large kitchens can benefit from a female presence to achieve a balance,” she says. “Women are proving that when they are given the opportunity, they can not only excel but truly shine in their kitchens.”
She’s bringing that balance to Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown, where she was recently named executive chef. Her menus highlight fresh and local ingredients, inspired by those languid summers in Kalamata, Greece. “Over the summer, we had Faroe Island salmon with Long Island corn, Jersey tomatoes, fresh herbs, Greek aged feta cheese, red wine vinegar and Greek olive oil,” she says. “It’s not unlike something that my grandmother would’ve made. I think she’d be quite pleased.”
Anne-Sophie Pic didn’t plan on becoming a chef. Instead, she studied business at the Instituto Superior de Gestión in Paris, working with brands like Cartier and Moët & Chandon. But she couldn’t escape the pull of the kitchen. After all, it was in her blood – her family’s first restaurant was founded in 1889 as Auberge du Pin, and since then has been led by three generations of Pics. Her grandfather, Andre, was the first to earn the restaurant its three Michelin stars – an honour her father, Jacques, maintained.
“I realized that the kitchen was in my DNA,” she says. “It became a passion. I suppose deep down, I had always had the instinct for flavour and scent, and when I finally came to the kitchen, I knew it was where I was meant to be.”
Expand your palate in London
Today, she’s one of the most celebrated female chefs in the world – and one of the most decorated. Under her leadership, her family restaurant Maison Pic has maintained its three Michelin stars, and her restaurant La Dame de Pic London at Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square has earned two. At La Dame de Pic, she takes pride in introducing guests to new flavours and sensations, using unexpected food pairings and a warm, inviting atmosphere to inspire powerful emotions.
And while in her family it’s been the men who cook, Pic thinks there’s more than enough room in restaurant kitchens for women. “Men, historically, hold the vast majority of chefs’ jobs, but women have an important place in the profession,” she says. “Women show tenacity, endurance and concentration, and also sensitivity and humility. I think a woman’s approach to the work is often different, but in the end, our strength comes from a balanced team.”
In honour of female contributions to cuisine, Pic and mixologist Thanos Tzanetopoulos have crafted an International Women’s Day cocktail menu – available all spring – inspired by some of the most prominent French women in history. Sip a Madeleine Vionnet, named for one of the most influential designers of her time, famous for pioneering the bias-cut dress and changing the shape of women’s fashion forever. Or raise a glass to famed singer Edith Piaf – reflecting her tremendous voice, the robust cocktail features rich, intense flavours from aged gin, Campari, umeshu and plum.
“It is important to celebrate pioneering women every day of the year, but International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us to shine a spotlight on those who have really made a difference,” Pic says. “It seems natural to celebrate them in a way I think they would approve of – delicious cocktails.”
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL MADRID
As a guest bartender at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival, Sophie Larrouture was challenged to craft a collection of cocktails inspired by creative women of the 20th century. Included among her concoctions: The Dietrich Show, made with rum, blackcurrant and maraschino cherry liqueurs, fresh tarragon, and lime juice.
The Paris native held several jobs in the hospitality world before working her way up to Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva, where she helped the Hotel’s Le Bar des Bergues earn a spot on Forbes Travel Guide’s list of the World’s Best Hotel Bars. She also won the Best Bartender of the Year award for Switzerland at the 2016 World Class competition – especially impressive for a woman in a male-dominated industry.
Toast your time in Madrid
“Mixology requires a strong product knowledge base, a touch of creativity and a hint of boldness – wrapped up with sensitivity,” she says. “The first three qualities might be found in both men and women, but it’s the last one, that touch of sensitivity, that often creates the stage for women to express themselves, and that marks the difference within the industry.”
Those qualities are on display at gastropub Isa at the new Four Seasons Hotel Madrid. As bar manager, Larrouture oversees a team of nearly 30, serving inventive cocktails with a minimalist approach – exploring only a few flavours at a time and playing with their origin, intensity and textures.
“Guests are looking for authenticity, and they want to taste the personal signature of the mixologist,” she says. “When we can share that through developing a new cocktail that’s truly unique, an intimate connection is made.”
Growing up in a small Southern Thailand province, Sumalee Khunpet worked in her family’s bakery business, learning to make her mother’s ka-nom-kai (Thai egg cake) recipes by heart. “I loved seeing the joy on people’s faces when they’d take a bite,” she says. “I knew that this was what I wanted to do.”
With her parents’ encouragement, she moved to the island of Koh Samui and got a job as a kitchen assistant in a steakhouse, where a female chef spurred her on – even though back then, female chefs were still rare in professional kitchens. “She taught me how to cook Thai food and French food,” Khunpet says, “but most importantly, she gave me the confidence to keep cooking.”
Thirty years later, Khunpet is still cooking – but now she’s leading the kitchen. As chef de cuisine at KOH Thai Kitchen at Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui, her culinary style is relaxed yet authentic. It’s important to her to share the flavours of the destination with guests.
“Thai cuisine for me means home, and sharing that feeling with our guests,” she says. “I try to craft a story that’s relevant to our culture and that the guests will enjoy, like massaman nua, a curry of cardamom-scented Wagyu beef cheeks that originated from Malaysia, but was adopted by Thailand in the 17th century. It’s how I stay connected to my culture, and how I can pass it on to others, too.”
Savour Thai cuisine in Koh Samui
Cornelia Sühr knew she wanted to become a chef by the time she was 8 years old. Growing up in a small town in northern Germany, it just seemed natural – her mother was a chef, her older brother was a chef, and her sister was a pastry chef. Her twin brother would become a baker.
“Being a ‘female chef’ was never something that stood out. You either knew how to cook or you didn’t,” she says. “Plus, I loved eating. It was something that we, as a family, always did together. I always connected food with being with others that I love.”
That connection is what drives her passion, she says. After working in the kitchens of several Michelin-starred chefs, including Alain Ducasse – whom she credits with influencing her classic, refined, ingredients-based cooking style – she is excited to lead her own kitchen when she takes the helm at Jean-Georges Philadelphia when it reopens at Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center, where she’ll focus on flavours that remind her of home and celebrate her roots.
Guests can taste those roots for themselves – try the smoked trout, home-cured and served with horseradish, Granny Smith apples, beetroot crème fraiche and dill. “It tastes like what I grew up with and it feels true to me,” she says. “It’s traditional, but elevated.”
Try new dishes in Philadelphia
FOUR SEASONS RESORT CHIANG MAI
Yanisa Wiangnon’s career has followed an unexpected recipe for success – one that didn’t actually start in a kitchen. After graduating with a degree in clinical and community psychology, she realized there was another way she could help others improve their moods: fresh, oven-warm pastry. After all, she says, “desserts make people happy – I love this about my job.”
She struck out on her own and opened a bakery, fine-tuning her Viennoiserie skills and developing her own style. She earned a reputation for creating new and exotic sweets made with seasonal fruits, like durian cheesecake and lychee panna cotta.
Treat your sweet tooth in Chiang Mai
“I love to reinterpret classic pastries,” she says, “like croissants filled with white chocolate and strawberry, or the giant young coconut brioche. The Kao Mak Cheesecake is made with fermented rice that’s grown and fermented at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai – it brings the classic dish to a whole new level with a unique taste and texture.”
She credits her playful style to a kitchen environment that’s become more open over the years – and more welcoming to women. “It’s becoming far less uncommon for female chefs to lead teams,” she says. “Female chefs often have a great sense of beauty and attention to detail. The biggest hurdle we face is believing in ourselves. Women should feel like we’re ready – we can do it!”
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