Top Female Achievers
Each year we profile a selection of extraordinary women from across our community that continue to make a difference. What is most difficult is not so much finding worthy contenders, but narrowing the list. As always, we feel enriched by those who have been selected and encouraged by knowing there are so many others to consider.
Vice President, Emeril Lagasse Foundation
Founded in 2002 by famed chef Emeril Lagasse and his wife, Alden, the Emeril Lagasse Foundation has granted over $9.6 million to support culinary, nutrition and arts education mostly in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast.
“The programs funded provide opportunities for youth to realize their fullest potential,” explained Antonia Keller, vice president for the foundation, “from teaching young children the importance of where food comes from, to mentoring young adults in employable skills.”
The foundation’s funding comes primarily through two signature events held one right after the other: Boudin, Bourbon & Beer (coming up Nov. 9) and Carnivale du Vin (Nov. 10).
Approaching its eighth year, Boudin, Bourbon & Beer typically draws around 5,000 people to Champions Square for a night of food, drink and camaraderie among and with New Orleans chefs and national culinary stars.
Carnivale du Vin will celebrate 14 years this fall.
“It’s a magical night that brings together the best talent in the hospitality industry – chefs and winemakers love coming to New Orleans to celebrate for a good cause,” said Keller.
At both events, students or interns help setup and work at the stations with the visiting chefs.
“They get to interact and be mentored by successful leaders in the industry, realizing what’s possible with hard work and dedication,” said Keller. “It’s a great reminder of why we do what we do.”
What motivates you to do what you do? “Each day I am motivated not only by the needs of the youth in the programs we support, but also by the staff working in nonprofits who mentor, serve as role models, and adapt day after day. We work to provide great guest experiences at our fundraising events, so our donors will continue to return and allow our charitable impact to grow. The generosity so far has been incredible.”
Fern Tsien, Ph.D.
Associate professor of genetics, LSU Health Sciences Center
In the United States, approximately 1 out of every 1,000 children are born with complete sensorineural hearing loss. Of those, 50 to 80 percent are due to genetic mutations.
Dr. Fern Tsien is determined to study and find answers to this problem in the Louisiana Acadian (Cajun) and Mexican Mayan populations.
Her research, which has been presented to local, national and international conferences to the clinical and scientific community, may ultimately lead to unlocking new diagnostic tests or therapies for deafness caused by genetic mutations.
In addition to her own work, Tsien works to further a love in science in Louisianans of all ages via extensive community outreach work. Tsien serves as the co-director of the Science Youth Initiative (SYI) program at LSU Health Sciences Center, which works to engage local elementary and high school students in the sciences. Enlisting the help of medical students and public health graduate students, SYI works with schools to reinforce lessons through hands-on experiments.
“The teachers will teach a lesson to a fourth grade class, and we’ll come in with a fun experiment the next day,” explained Tsien, who said SYI creates a wider exposure to science while raising standardized test scores in science. “For middle and high school students, we offer a chance to spend the day at LSU doing STEM experiments with academics.”
The goal of SYI’s work is to create a pipeline for the third part of the program — paid, eight-week internships for high school students, many of whom advance to college and science or health-related careers.
Advice to young women. “Don’t give up. Soon after I received my doctorate, I lost my husband. Suddenly I was a single mom with two very young children. It definitely took me longer to accomplish my goals, but I did it.”
Victoria Adams Phipps
Executive producer, New Orleans Entrepreneur Week
This year was a big one for New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW)— the annual entrepreneur festival celebrated its 10th year from March 19-23 with the launch of “NOEW in Your Neighborhood,” which spread events for the first three days of the festival over various locations around the city.
“To mark this milestone we thought this was a good way of honoring the roots of how the festival got started,” said Victoria Adams Phipps, a Miami native who fell in love with New Orleans while attending Loyola University and has served as the executive producer of NOEW for the past seven years. “We’re always looking at ways to increase accessibility and innovate, while highlighting the fact that entrepreneurship doesn’t just happen Downtown.”
This year’s NOEW included 60 events across eight neighborhoods and awarded $330,000 to entrepreneurs in funds and services.
In Phipps’ time overseeing NOEW, attendance for the free public event has increased by approximately 1,200 percent.
“It’s just gotten bigger and better,” said Phipps. “We’ve come to be known for our great keynote speakers, which is something I’m really proud of.”
What advice would you give to young women? “You are capable beyond measure. Society often tells us that we have to be perfect, that we have to have every ounce of our future planned and programmed. Let that go! Try new things. Lean into your fears. You don’t have to have it all figured out today and you don’t have to follow any pre-determined pathways for life. Lean into your power and give yourself the freedom to try, evolve, pivot, succeed and try again.”
Ti Adelaide Martin
Co-owner of the Commander's Family of Restaurants
Ti Martin is typically a very busy woman — Martin is the co-owner of her family’s restaurant business, which includes Commander’s Palace, Café Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar, and SoBou — but this year takes hectic to a whole new level.
After five years in the works, this past January Martin finally celebrated the groundbreaking of the New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (NOCHI), alongside co-founders Dickie Brennan, her cousin and fellow restaurateur, and developer George Brower.
“It’s mind boggling that New Orleans doesn’t have a culinary school,” she said. “In order to keep us on the leading edge of the food and hospitality world we can’t afford to stand still.”
When completed in early 2019, the 93,000-square-foot, $30 million, five-story building at 725 Howard Avenue will serve as a top tier culinary school that also incorporates hospitality training, along with office and classroom spaces for Tulane University and multiple sites for event rentals.
But before that big day, Commander’s Palace will be celebrating its 125th year in business this fall with a symposium Martin described as “similar to what my family did on what they thought was the 100th year,” as well as a “big dinner.”
There’s also the book she wrote with and about her mother, Ella Brennan, entitled “Miss Ella of Commander’s Palace,” that is also a documentary but is now being scripted as a live action film.
And if that’s not enough, Martin’s opening a new business this summer, with details yet to be announced.
“It’s with Chef Tory McPhail (executive chef at Commander’s) and Darryl Reginelli,” she said. “I can’t talk about it yet, but it’s very exciting.”
What motivates you to do what you do? “New Orleans itself. It’s like another member of my family. Plus I just love creating something from nothing. That’s very motivating to me.”
Owner, Sensible Meals
New Orleans native Ingrid Rinck was a single mom with three kids working as a personal trainer when her family received some very difficult news.
“My son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,” she said. “Only about 5 percent of diabetics are type 1.”
Often diagnosed in children or young adults, type 1 (or juvenile) diabetes occurs when a person does not make enough insulin, which results in dangerously high blood sugar levels. There is no known way to prevent it, but it can be managed with help from a very careful diet and exercise.
“I literally had to start portioning out his food or he could die,” said Rinck. “So I started cooking differently and I realized that I was losing weight eating this way. Soon, other people started asking me to cook for them too. That’s where the idea for the business came from.”
Rinck formed Sensible Meals in 2014 near her home on the north shore. In just four years, the company has become the largest of its type in the country, employing over 1,200 people, 90 percent of whom are women.
“I like to give other women, including other moms, opportunities,” she said. “We’re also big on giving back to organizations like the American Heart Association and those associated with juvenile diabetes.”
Operating out of giant kitchens in Hammond and Mandeville, as well as 11 free pickup locations around Louisiana, Sensible Meals also ships meals nationwide.
“It feels good to know that we’re changing people’s lives,” said Rinck, by giving them something affordable, something sustainable, that’s helping them live healthier lives.”
Advice to young women. “You don’t have to be stuck where you are, but you have to be the one to make the change. And once you do make that change, it’s important to put your hand out and help someone else. There is always someone you can help.”
Owner, Jaci Blue
Jaclyn McCabe always knew a few things to be true: she has always been what people call “plus-size,” and shopping for clothes was never fun.
“I just got to this point in my life where I was so frustrated and tired of not being able to find the clothes I wanted or get good customer service,” she said. “I really longed to feel like my thinner friends felt when they went shopping. I was tired of crying in dressing rooms.”
So, back in 2006 while she was in her mid 20s, McCabe opened her own clothing store in the French Quarter called The Voluptuous Vixen. For eight years she dedicated herself to providing exactly the kind of shopping experience she always wanted to other plus-size women.
The problem, however, was that McCabe secretly hated her own body and didn’t believe any of the body positivity messages she was telling her clients.
In 2014 McCabe closed The Voluptuous Vixen and took some time to really work on what she calls “radical self love.”
In April 2016, she opened her new store, Jaci Blue, at 2111 Magazine Street. The 2.0 version of The Voluptuous Vixen, McCabe said she feels her new sense of self-esteem shines through to her clients, encouraging them to feel good about who they are too.
“I get a lot of gratitude,” she said, “even people who don’t end up buying anything just tell me how exciting it is to be in a store where they could try everything on if they wanted to.”
What motivates you in your work? “The one-on-one time I have with my clients where we’re talking about our experiences, our bodies, is really wonderful. I’m working on ways to bring that kind of experience to a community level.”
L'Issa L. Gates, M.D.
Pediatric Physician, Ochsner Westside
L’Issa Gates came into this world at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, and eventually returned to become the first Black partner of Westside Clinics—now known as Ochsner for Children-Westside Pediatrics.
The pediatric and preventive physician excels not only in treating children, but in advocating for young people and the sciences on every front, including serving as a member of the Delgado Community College Care and Development of Young Children Board of Advisors, where she has lectured on early development and care.
Gates also volunteers with Junior Achievement, educating young people about making healthy choices, and is involved with multiple programs that encourage students to look at STEM careers.
“I work with an Ochsner program that reaches out to high school students interested in science and medicine and I talk to them about my path to pediatrics and my daily schedule,” said Gates. She does a similar thing for the American Medical Association’s Doctors Back to School program.
Her work has received no shortage of recognition, including commendations from the Jefferson Parish president, New Orleans mayor and city council, as well as the state house and senate. Just a few other recent awards include the 2016 National Role Model by Minority Access, Inc. and being included among the Young Leadership Council’s class of role models for 2017.
What motivates you to do what you do? “I love working with children and adolescents because there’s always elements of fun throughout the day. The work I do also has a lot to do with prevention and education both physically and developmentally so that means dealing with the whole person, which I also really enjoy.”
Chef Leah Sarris
Director of the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine
Chef Leah Sarris has been the force behind Tulane’s Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine — the world’s premier culinary medicine program — since it was first conceived in 2012.
The Ohio native is both a chef and registered dietitian who once dreamed of being a doctor but now teaches them — and others — about the power of using food as medicine. She daily dispels myths about eating healthy from the center’s headquarters adjacent to the Whole Foods at 300 N. Broad Street.
“I’m a chef first and a dietitian second,” she says. “Our job is to show people that eating healthy can be affordable and delicious.”
In a city known for food, just not the healthy kind, Sarris has created a program already adopted by 20 percent of medical schools in the country, as well as a successful annual culinary medicine conference.
Physicians aren’t the only ones learning at the Goldring Center, however. There’s currently a waiting list for the center’s free community classes and programming has recently been extended to include chefs.
“We want to help change the future of healthcare,” says Sarris. “We want to do more than just tell people to eat more vegetables, we want to show them how to do it in a way that they’re going to love.”
What advice would you give young women? “Don’t limit yourself and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I haven’t had a traditional career path — for four years I was working three part-time jobs because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. What that did, though, was broaden my skill set, which made me more valuable to employers.”
Mayra E. Pineda
President and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana
2017 was a big year for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana (HCCL) — it was not only named “Chamber of the Year” by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but “Partner Organization of the Year” by the Women’s Business Enterprise Council.
The awards represent just a few of many signs that chamber president and CEO Mayra Pineda says indicates the chamber is “on the right track” in terms of delivering on its mission to foster the economic development of Hispanic businesses in the state.
After serving as a board member at the HCCL’s inception in 1999 and chairing the board for three years, Pineda says by 2013 it was clear the chamber was not producing the value it could to its members.
“I had all these ideas and opinions, so the idea was sort of, ‘Why don’t you do it?’” she laughed.
Since Pineda took the reins in 2014, the HCCL has formed collaborations with organizations like Goldman Sachs, JEDCO and SBA; created its own workforce training center in Kenner; started a young professionals chapter; and launched an array of successful events, including its annual Women’s Business Symposium and Day of Empowerment.
“Our membership has tripled,” said Pineda, “and our sponsorships have really grown as well. Instead of calling people, they’re calling us now, which is pretty incredible.”
What advice would you give young women? “Never underestimate your potential and dream big. Think of life as a journey for which you prepare for academically, but never forget kindness, solidarity, tolerance and to give back along the way. Surround yourself with women you admire; seek advice and learn to listen. You will find that successful and accomplished women thrive on lifting other women.”