Maybe it’s because Brittany Neisen grew up with two older brothers — or because she has worked alongside more men than women as a professional chef — but she doesn’t think too much about being one of the first female executive chefs at Darden’s Restaurant Support Center in Orlando, FL.
“Entering a kitchen environment that’s mostly male never fazed me,” said the executive chef at Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen. “I’ve been fortunate to work with many talented, uplifting people, most of them men, who wanted to see me get ahead. When everyone is working toward the same goal, your gender doesn’t matter.”
As an executive chef, Brittany helps create new menu items for Cheddar’s as well as improve current ones. She has worked in foodservice since she was 16, most recently overseeing the food and beverage menus for three restaurant concepts in Dallas. She has also worked in restaurant kitchens in Denver; Vail, CO; and Jackson Hole, WY.
She supplemented her experience with impressive academic credentials: a bachelor’s degree in food science from Texas Tech University and a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University.
Her personal cooking philosophy is to use the freshest ingredients and waste as little as possible. “Growing up, I spent summers at my grandparents’ farm and admired how they used every part of any animal they butchered and put up fruit and vegetables for the winter. That’s where I started to love and appreciate food.”
Brittany belongs to a community garden where she is growing tomatoes, napa cabbage, kale and turnips, with herbs flourishing in window boxes. “It’s kind of therapeutic to dig in the dirt.”
She was joined at Darden by Seasons 52 Executive Chef Tina Bourbeau last year, but Brittany would still like to see more women put on chef caps. “It’s a demanding job, but the women I’ve seen working in Cheddar’s kitchens are strong-willed and physically strong. Women are treated the same and have the same opportunities as men at Cheddar’s.”
Her advice for women who might want to follow in her footsteps? “If you have the drive to pursue a chef career, everything else will follow and you can achieve it. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Women bring tremendous talent and balance to the kitchen.”