Fairfield County is full of trailblazing women, particularly in the culinary world. Which is why, with 2018 being proclaimed the Year of the Woman, we felt compelled to honor the pioneers among us.
Our new series, “It’s A Woman’s World’ is devoted to Fairfield County female influencers who’ve forged their own paths, often in food-related fields long dominated by men.
Whether farming the land, bringing healthy food to the masses, feeding an entrepreneurial spirit or injecting feminism with food, these groundbreaking ladies have set a new definition of women’s work, creating new paths and setting examples for those who follow.
How'd they do it? Read on. This week, our focus turns to Gretchen Thomas, Wine and Spirits Director, Barteca Restaurant Group. Have a suggestion on someone you’d like to see featured? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gretchen Thomas, Wine and Spirits Director, Barteca Restaurant Group
Why She’s A Pioneer: She supervises one of the largest Spanish wine programs in the U.S.—and has been doing so for 12 years. She’s also a certified Spanish Wine Educator from the Wine Academy of Spain where she scored in the top 15 in the world. Along with sourcing mass production wines across the globe (albeit with a concentration on Spain and South America), she dabbles in winemaking.
In addition, Thomas manages her own line of imported wines under the "Vi Side Imports" portfolio, curating a selective list of fine wines from small producers in Spain and South America.
Always on the hunt for something innovative and artisanal, it helps that Thomas’s background is in food. She’s worked in restaurants – as a hostess and in the kitchen chopping, grilling and slicing – since she was 14. Her love for the industry led her to study at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) where she caught the wine bug, changing her course of study and forever altering her career trajectory. The Kentucky native worked as a sommelier and restaurant manager at various restaurants in the Hudson Valley, most notably Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, NY before joining Barteca.
On Being A Woman In A “Man’s World:” She’s used to it -- the culinary world has always skewed more heavily male -- and is glad to see the conversations happening. She says she never had issues until her 20s when she was cooking in a New Orleans kitchen as part of a CIA externship. There, she experienced hazing and verbal harassment. “It was rough,” she says. “But I tried to keep my head down, work hard and concentrate on my job. I think, at the time, it was an industry norm [to experience some type of sexual harassment] and you kind of knew if you were female and wanted to get ahead, that you had to keep quiet and put up with a lot.”
Once she switched to the wine side, however, the hazing and lewd comments she had dealt with, dissipated. “I’ve never experienced extreme sexism in the dining room and wine world like I did on the culinary side,” she says.
As she’s grown into her position, she says she’s much more comfortable calling people out on what they can and cannot say. “I’m lucky that my company is super progressive and we have a lot of women in leadership,” she says. “I was one of the first but now when I now sit at a table with different department heads we’re almost equal in terms of men and women."
What’s Next: Travelling. She goes to Spain and South America a lot, both to source new wines, retain relationships with growers as well as to lead tasting trips with other beverage directors and chefs. The Catalonia area of Spain, in particular, is exploding with artisanal producers and is one of her focuses. She’s also always working on new cocktails. Says Thomas: “We want to make sure we stay ahead of what’s happening in the spirits world and always be putting out fun stuff for our guests.”