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 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 Debra Ponzek, Chef/Owner of Aux Delices Foods. Have a suggestion on someone you’d like to see featured? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Debra Ponzek, Aux Delices Foods
Why She’s A Pioneer: A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Ponzek paved her path in some of New York’s toughest kitchens, winning accolades along the way. In 1992 she was recognized by the James Beard Foundation as a “Rising Star Chef” while serving as executive chef at Montrachet, a position she held for seven years – and which she was promoted to after 10 months as a sous chef. Wanting to emulate some of the prepared food shops she liked in France where “beautiful foods” were always on display, she opened her own version in 1995. Her first Aux Délices location, in Riverside, soon expanded to multiple sites – Greenwich in 1999, Darien in 2004, Westport Post Road in 2012 and Westport Church Lane in 2017. Along the way she’s written four cookbooks in addition to raising three children. Active in the community, she also runs cooking classes for adults and kids at her commercial kitchen in Stamford.
On Being A Woman In A “Man’s World:” Ponzek admits that when she started out 30 years ago, you had to be tough and -- literally -- take the heat in the kitchen. “In the beginning of my career it was extremely physically and mentally challenging-working so many hours, perfecting my cooking and navigating a staff that was mostly all male,” she says. “Over the years my confidence grew and I became more comfortable leading and teaching my staff.”
What’s Next: “So much,” she says. There are a lot of projects within the business that take up her time, i.e. growing the company’s private and corporate catering business, increasing mail orders with Dean & DeLuca and Neiman Marcus (among others). “Consistency is the backbone of how we’ve grown our business so retaining that is part of our day-to-day,” she adds. Of course, she also likes to keep her menus fresh and engaging. And, she and her husband always have their eyes open for additional opportunities.