At 26, Giselle Wellman became the youngest female executive chef in Los Angeles history, and at 33 she has earned some much-needed rest. Before coming home to San Diego to open Pacific Standard, Giselle worked for prestigious kitchens in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Today, you'll find a softer Giselle sitting with her new puppy Oliver, looking forward to relaxing and giving back to her community. We sat down with Giselle to talk about food, life in the kitchen and what's next for the superstar chef. See why she's our #RealInfluencer of the week!
When did you realize you wanted to become a chef?
I always wanted to be a doctor, but the reality of beginning to study for that just wasn't something that was motivating me. Instead, I was finding as much time as possible to cook. I come from a Jewish-Mexican background and on Monday I would be asking my mom, "What are we doing for Shabbat?" Not because I'm religious but because we would be cooking for 15 people and I wanted to know what the menu was. I didn't want to be a chef my whole life, it was just something that was calling me.
What has been the driving force in your career?
When I was 19 years old at my first restaurant my chef said to me, "Always work for the best and that will get you where you need to be." So I made sure to always work for the best. I only recently realized that I was in the top percentile of line cooks or chefs in the United States because when you surround yourself with such a competitive atmosphere there's always someone better than you.
What has been the biggest obstacle as a woman in your industry?
Definitely, being taken seriously. When I became an executive chef at 26 I always felt that I was battling the sexes. I was being paid less than the chef prior to me, who was a man, and the chef after me that was a man. That restaurant gave me my starting name and my career so I'm very grateful, but many times I felt it was a struggle to be a woman. Especially a young woman.
Do you think it’s more difficult to attain a work/life balance as a woman?
In my career, yes. I think the workforce is changing but kitchens aren't. When you're working 10 to 14 hour days there's no way to be a mother. The women who are actually able to do it own businesses or have partnerships that enable them to step away. So I think to attain that balance we have to give up a bit of our power.
What does true success mean to you?
I think that success is finding happiness in whatever you do and doing it because it makes you happy, not anybody else. I also believe that personal success changes as you evolve. I focused my success for so long on being a recognized chef, and it's funny that once I hit that success I had to re-figure it out again.