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‘A Fine Line:’ Successful women in culinary industry find common ground in their struggles

Filmmaker Joanna James stands in front of the Bing Crosby Theater in Spokane, Washington Saturday, July 13, 2019 where her film, “A Fine Line” was shown. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

A common thread among an entrepreneur, filmmaker and head chef, who all were in Spokane on Saturday, is that they made their struggles worth it when the odds seemed stacked against them.

Joanna James, Mareya Ibrahim and Anita Lo spoke before an audience at the Bing Crosby Theater on Saturday after a screening of “A Fine Line,” an award-winning documentary about women in the food industry directed by James.

The event was part of The Spokesman-Review’s Northwest Passages Book Club, and Spokane entrepreneur Deborah Di Bernardo of Roast Coffee House and First Avenue Coffee also took part in the discussion.

James’ film features her mother Valerie James’ story as a restaurant owner who fought creditors and bankers to start her own business that took off and brought her major success.

The documentary also features numerous female head chefs who struggled with working their way to the top.

“We wanted to spotlight them and say to these everyday heroes: Look what you did,” James said.

Since showcasing her film, one of James’ greatest joys has been seeing other women like the ones in the movie.

“That’s the best part about going around the country, is hearing from women who paid off their first credit card to get their own restaurant started,” she said.

Ibrahim, a TV chef, author, entrepreneur and inventor, said the struggle that ambitious women face, like in the movie, is one of the reasons she decided not to start her own restaurant.

However, Ibrahim found that as an entrepreneur, the challenge to find success is just as hard as a chef.

“This is pervasive across every industry,” she said. “No matter what.”

Ibrahim recently released her newest book, “Eat Like You Give a Fork: The Real Dish on Eating To Thrive.”

Lo, a Michelin-star chef and “Iron Chef America” champion, compared her story to James’ mother’s and said she was luckier in starting her first restaurant, Annisa, in New York.

Lo was the first woman to be a head chef for a state dinner at the White House, and it was for the Obama administration. She recently released her cookbook “Solo: A Modern Cookbook for a Party of One.”

Ibrahim said the film gives credit to the women fighting to earn respect.

“I have so much respect for this film and what it does to show that the struggle is whatever you make it,” she said.