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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

When you crave a calling, not a career: Anita Lo, Joanna James join other top female foodies at Crave

From left, Eat Cleaner CEO Mareya Ibrahim, filmmaker Joanna James and Roast House owner Deborah Di Bernardo at the Spokesman-Review on Friday. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Some people have jobs. Others have careers. And then there are those who have callings.

Having dinner with Joanna James, Mareya Ibrahim and Deborah Di Bernardo makes that point. Great food tastes even better when the secret ingredient is engaging conversation seasoned perfectly with inspiration.

And more than a few laughs.

On Friday night, they gathered for a private dinner on the roof of the Chronicle building as the sun set across downtown. They swapped stories. They talked about food. They caught up on their lives like they were lifelong friends who had just reunited. Yet they all had just met around that dinner table.

Kindred spirits from very different kitchens. Different ages. Different heritages. But simpatico in their passions and drive.

It was one of those moments you wish everyone could experience.

Luckily, we can.

They are all in town to speak at today’s Crave Food and Drink Celebration at Spokane Valley’s CenterPlace Regional Event Center. They will be joined by master Michelin-star chef Anita Lo.

It runs from noon until 4 p.m., and tickets are available at the door for $50 or online for $40. You can then put away your wallet and enjoy great local food, wine and beer, as well as moments to be inspired.

That’s where these four excel. They aren’t just great in their callings, they’re even better at telling the stories behind the stories. They know just how hard this is, regardless of your gender.

These are some of the most successful women in the culinary world, and they’re here to share their stories on the Northwest Passages stage at Crave. And what they’ve overcome to achieve those heights.

You see, it is less likely for a woman to be hired as a head chef than it is to be a company’s CEO. That doesn’t even account for the traditional biases against women business owners by financial institutions or the propensity of men in the restaurant world to be first-class jerks to their female co-workers.

They get it.

Because they’ve lived it.

Lo has competed and won on the culinary world’s biggest stage, Iron Chef. She was the first female chef for an official state dinner at the White House. She has run a restaurant in New York. She’s a successful author.

Ibrahim is an accomplished inventor and the CEO of her own company. She’s the “Fit Foodie.” If you watch any of the cooking shows, you’ve probably seen her on TV. Her latest book couldn’t be more perfectly named: “Eat Like You Give a Fork: The Real Dish on Eating to Thrive.”

Di Bernardo is one of us. She’s a Spokane coffee legend, the founder of Roast House Coffee and the proprietor of First Avenue Coffee. When local chef Chad White was looking for the perfect secret ingredient for one of his dishes at his new BBQ joint, he turned to Di Bernardo’s expertise.

Then there’s James. She’s a master storyteller. With a conscience. She’s a journalist who’s worked at the Boston Globe and even covered the Olympics. Her documentary, years in the making – “A Fine Line” – is a critically acclaimed look at just how hard it is to fight through all of the obstacles and discrimination that women face in the culinary world.

Even getting to Spokane was a chore.

James made the cross-country trip just weeks before her third child is due. Because of life issues, Lo’s travels to Spokane were anything but easy.

Yet they both came. They had to.

All four know that one of the most important reasons for them to be here is because of who might be in the audience. Nope, not some executive. None of them are worried about talent scouts or investors.

They made the trip to Spokane for a much more important reason. They’re here for the woman who might be in the audience who needs to know she can do this.

Lo knows all too well that studies prove when people have role models that look like themselves, their horizons open. They believe. They see that their dreams can be achieved.

“If they see someone who looks like them doing something, they feel that they can do it, too,” Lo said. “Since women are such minorities in the executive chef world, it is important to represent.”

That’s why they went to all of the trouble to get here. They’re here to represent.

You see, that’s the difference between a job and a calling.

At a job, you try to make money. With a calling, you try to make the world a better place.

Yes, it’s just food and coffee. But when women like these four get together, you believe they might have found the perfect medium for change. And this change tastes wonderful.