When I came to Sue Chan’s Williamsburg apartment on a Sunday afternoon, I immediately forgot how difficult our salad date had been to schedule. There I found Sue in her happy place – her post farmer’s market haul, where vegetables would be spread out on her counter and inventoried, flowers cut, arranged, and scattered around her sunny apartment. Sue spent more time lovingly organizing her heirloom cauliflower, carrots and dahlias than she did preparing the salad (to be fair, Sue could make this salad with her eyes closed).
Sue is the brand director for the Momofuku empire, meaning she oversees PR, creates events, and masterminds how a restaurant can function as so much more than a brick and mortar dinner destination. And in her free time (as if she has any), Sue is one of the founders of Toklas Society, a community building non-profit that hosts business driven events to benefit women getting started in the culinary world. Sue started this group with friends EunJean Song and Alex Pemoulie, as they saw themselves climbing the ranks at work, but lacking formal resources for women in their positions. They wanted create a space where they could meet like-minded culinary professionals, to cross-pollinate and generate new ideas. What better way to initiate such an organization, than to invoke the name of Alice B. Toklas, feminist icon, cookbook author, art lover and partner to Gertrude Stein?
I recently attended a Toklas Society mixer at the newly opened and much acclaimed Mimi Cheng’s Dumpling Shop in the East Village. There, Sue had succeeded in creating an environment where people could ask questions, exchange contact info and “network,” in the least icky sense of the word. I saw familiar faces and new ones, chatted with women who were just finding their way in to the world of food, and those who were well-seasoned and already deep into a wide array of creative projects and pursuits.
New York can feel like an impossible nut to crack, until you find those people who know how to make you feel at home.
* Toklas’ website is under construction. To find out about upcoming events, follow their Instagram and Twitter, @TOKLASSOCIETY, and join their mailing list by emailing hello(at)toklassociety.org