Indy Women in Food brings together local women to empower and build a community

Ashley Brooks and Sonja Overhiser never set out to be culinary queens or representatives of a food movement. But their own personal journeys and love of food and community brought them together to start Indy Women in Food, a group designed to empower and support the female foodies of Indianapolis.

Indy Women in Food was created in early 2017 to nurture collaboration among women in the Indianapolis food scene. This includes entrepreneurs, chefs, restaurant owners, writers, farmers, photographers and community organizers. The group exists primarily as a Facebook group with approximately 125 people. The women in the group are constantly offering support and suggestions to their fellow female foodies.

“It’s exciting being part of a group where everyone already has a shared state of mind,” says Overhiser. “We all know the challenges we face, and enjoy having an awesome group of women who share stories and resources, and make connections to promote our businesses and share ideas.”

The Women Behind the Network

Overhiser is the creator and writer of the blog “A Couple Cooks,” and co-author of A Couple Cooks: Pretty Simple Cooking: 100 Delicious Vegetarian Recipes to Make You Fall in Love with Real Food (see story on page 28). But she admits cooking was never something she set out to do full-time.

It wasn’t until she and her husband, Alex, bought their first house in Broad Ripple and wanted to invite friends to dinner that she realized she needed to learn how to prepare a meal. So she read one of Julia Child’s cookbooks and fell in love with her message that anyone can learn to cook, as long as they have the courage and a willingness to try (and fail).

After successfully attempting Child’s recipes, Overhiser was hooked and began experimenting more with food. After reading Mark Bittman’s Food Matters, the couple made an effort to cook and eat a more plant-based diet, which became the inspiration for starting the blog.

Brooks has been involved in the food industry in many ways, starting in AmeriCorps where she became very aware of the role food plays in healthy living. It was then Brooks developed a passion for philanthropy and food. After completing a tour in AmeriCorps, Brooks attended culinary school at Ivy Tech Community College.

She went on to become a baker for Rene’s Bakery in Broad Ripple, a cheesemaker at Trader’s Point and co-founded the highly recognized Milktooth. She started A Rose Hospitality, where she curates food experiences from private dining to large-format festivals and everything in between. She cofounded the Garfield Park Farmers Market (the first Slow Food Snail of Approval recipient farmers market in the nation), which Brooks describes as a culmination of everything she loves—a gathering place for community interactions and getting healthy and good food to people who need it. She also co-founded Baby Got Brunch in 2017, a 1,200-person food festival benefitting The Patachou Foundation. The second brunch benefit was held earlier in August.

In December 2016, Janneane Blevins of the former PRINTtEXT (and current member of Indy Women in Food) called upon Brooks to organize a luncheon of local female chefs to welcome Kerry Diamond, the editorial director of Cherry Bombe, to Indianapolis. Blevins also hosted a panel discussion with Diamond, which included Overhiser as one of the panelists. The enthusiasm around these two events motivated Brooks and Overhiser to start Indy Women in Food.

“There were so many women at the event who were excited about food and having a platform to encourage each other and hear about all the cool things women are doing with food in Indianapolis,” says Overhiser. “We wanted to keep that community of women and energy going after the event. So the two of us had coffee and the rest is history!”

Bringing Women Together

Since its formation, Indy Women in Food has hosted several networking events so the women in the Facebook group can meet in person. They’ve organized three potlucks, the first of which took place at the Experimental House in summer 2017 and the most recent in June 2018 at Gallery Pastry Shop. Indy Women in Food also hosted a book signing and panel discussion with author Nicole Gulotta.

The women also started the Empower Program, which harnesses the connection between food and philanthropy to mentor young women. Twelve women in the local food industry talked to middle school students at Indianapolis Center for Inquiry School 2 about their careers in food and their challenges.

“We really wanted to show these young women, and men, what it looks like to be a successful woman in food,” says Brooks. The program received considerable positive feedback, and they hope to replicate it at other schools.

Other Indy Women in Food programs on the horizon include partnering with author Julia Turshen for a book signing event and a panel discussion on diversity and food. That event is scheduled for September 25 from 4 to 5:30pm at Indy Reads.

To learn more about Indy Women and Food and join the community, visitIndyWomenInFood.comor @IndyWomenInFood.

Indy Women in Food to Know

From left to right: Shellye Suttles, Nina Takamure,  Tanorria Ashew, Candace Boyd Wylie
From left to right: Shellye Suttles, Nina Takamure, Tanorria Ashew, Candace Boyd Wylie

SHELLYE SUTTLES, PhD ,

Assistant Professor, Indiana University, Bloomington

PREVIOUSLY (When issue was published)

Food Policy and Program Coordinator,
Office of Public Health & Safety,
City of Indianapolis
Instagram @xellye

Hometown?

Los Angeles, California.

What is your job?

As the city’s first-ever food policy and program coordinator, I move the needle on food access and food insecurity. What motivates me about the position is that I am able to empower the residents of Indianapolis to get involved in shaping the future of the city’s food system.

What is one of your goals with respect to your work and food?

Food Compass. As a board member of the Indy Hunger Network, we have been working to develop an app—Food Compass—in partnership with Connect2Help 211 to help Marion County residents navigate the complex emergency food assistance network. We were invited to have Food Compass be the premiere challenge at this year’s Indy Civic Hack and will be moving forward with the development of the app with the challenge winner, Level Up Development.

Who is a strong woman role model in the food industry to know?

Mary Bohman, administrator of the USDA Economic Research Service. She is very well respected as an administrator of an agency with over 200 independent-thinking economists and social scientists and gives them the freedom to be creative in their food and agricultural research. And, like myself, she got her start in agriculture and community development as a Peace Corps volunteer overseas.

What’s your go-to spot for fresh food?

Saraga International Grocery.

What is your favorite food?

Red beans and rice (ham hocks, hot links and all).

NINA TAKAMURE
Sushi Chef of Asaka Japanese Restaurant
Instagram @asakaindy

Hometown?

A small town called Ueki in Kumamoto, Japan.

What inspired you to work in the food industry?

Since 2009, I have watched my family’s restaurant, Asaka, get more new customers and more regulars. Many travel hours just to come to eat there. So I would say that Asaka is my inspiration and inspired me to start working in the food industry.

What is one of your goals with respect to your work and food?

My goal is to follow in my father’s footsteps when he is ready to retire. Asaka’s name will be passed down to me, and I would love to relocate and use my father and grandmother’s recipes and quality at a new Asaka location, with a touch of me and a simpler menu.

Who is a strong woman role model in the food industry to know?

My strong woman role model has to be Ashley Brooks. A couple of years back, she reached out and invited me to meet all the badass women in Indy along with Kerry Diamond from Cherry Bombe. Before that, I did not have confidence in my work. Ashley helped me realize I am a one-ofa- kind and I do have a talent in this field.

What is your favorite food?

Japanese food is my favorite food because it’s my comfort food. My mother learned to be an amazing cook while we were in Japan. So even when we came to America, I still had the comfort of Japanese food in our home.

TANORRIA ASKEW
Personal Chef/Owner
Tanorria’s Table
Instagram @tanorriastable

Hometown?

Chattanooga, Tennessee.

What inspired you to work in the food industry?

Food builds community. I spent my childhood watching my parents and grandparents host and entertain people all of the time. Every gathering, celebration, time of grief or simple invitation was centered around food. I was able to see relationships grow, strangers become friends and memories made all while spending time in the kitchen and then around a dining room table.

What is one of your goals with respect to your work and food?

Being on “Master Chef” and gaining exposure while cooking has given me a platform to help people and speak up. It has been such an honor to partner with organizations, give people a voice and would absolutely LOVE to further that platform with a cooking show that would allow me to spread love, hope and acceptance among viewers. All while teaching people that cooking can be fun, rewarding and delicious. That is my ultimate goal.

What advice do you have for young people wanting to break into the food industry?

Don’t let anyone tell you that cooking (in any capacity) is not a real job. Whether you own multiple restaurants, are a personal chef, a caterer, food blogger, etc. You are doing what you love and if you bust your butt, you can make it a viable career.

What’s your go-to spot for fresh food?

I absolutely love Public Greens.

What is your favorite food?

BUTTER! Butter makes everything better. I love Kerrygold Butter, but any butter made from happy cows makes me happy.

“Food is my ministry. It’s my love language. Growing up I saw how the kitchen was the center of the home. It was (and is) what brings people together.” —Candace Boyd Wylie

CANDACE BOYD WYLIE
Chief Foodie and Spice Slanger
The Foodlovetog, LLC, Owner
FoodLoveTog.com
Instagram @foodlovetog

Hometown?

Indianapolis, Indiana—born and raised.

What inspired you to work in the food industry?

Food is my ministry. It’s my love language. Growing up I saw how the kitchen was the center of the home. It was (and is) what brings people together. So naturally, I gravitated to bringing people together, and I love how I can use food to do that.

What is one of your goals with respect to your work and food?

One of my goals is to see that some sort of culinary education is still taught to children while they’re in elementary school. Eventually, my cooking school on wheels will have actual wheels and I’ll be able to travel the state teaching kids how to feed themselves and others. I currently take my show on the road and present in concrete spaces.

What advice do you have for young people wanting to break into the food industry?

Keep going. There is enough space for us all to excel. Hone in on what you have to bring to this world. Be fearless in your pursuit. Carve out your dreams by writing them and making them visual.

What’s your go-to spot for fresh food?

I live for homegrown eats. Growing up, my family had extensive gardens—it was nothing for me to walk out the back door and grab a tomato, cucumber and fresh greens.

What is your favorite food?

I have a thing for chicken wings. Baked, grilled, fried— they’re the jam!

MARIA CARTAGENA-BERTRAM

Vice President of Finance and Operations, Bertram Construction and President & COO, Empresas MPC LLC

Previously (When issue was published)

Co-owner,Pia Urban Café
Instagram @piaurbancafe

Hometown?

I live in Indianapolis and grew up in Cayey, Puerto Rico.

What inspired you to work in the food industry?

Two things: First, the childhood memories of grandma’s home cooking. Her way to get to our hearts was through food. I loved her passion for life; her ways to bring people together through food and always do it with a big smile.

Second, the opportunity the food industry allows individuals to create and be inspired. Food was a way for me to get creative and introduce a new way to serve the marginalized women in Indianapolis. Food had taught me so much! Through the idea of serving coffee and a simple lunch menu was how Pia Urban Café was created.

What is one of your goals with respect to your work and food?

Like anything in life or in any business, hard work and dedication will take you far. I hope the women working with us, transitioning into a real-life working environment, will learn the basics of hard work and dedication. My goal is that they become responsible, engaged with society and transition well.

What’s your go-to spot for fresh food?

Natural Born Juices. I like to drink my veggies.

What is your favorite food?

Seafood and plantains.



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