Executive Chef Natasha Pogrebinksy has never taken the easy route in life, or her career. Born in Kiev, she immigrated with her political refugee parents to the United States in 1990. They eventually arrived in Parma, where Pogrebinsky attended Normandy High School, going on to Case Western Reserve and Cleveland State University and The French Culinary Institute in New York.
Pogrebinsky did a five-year stint at the City University of New York as an Adjunct Professor of Hospitality Management before opening her first restaurant, Bear, with her brother Alex in Queens. While at Bear, she earned recognition from Michelin Guide, The New York Times, Village Voice, Wall Street Journal and others.
After 15 years of owning and running restaurants in New York, Chef Natasha returned to Cleveland in 2018, and now is at the helm of The South Side in Tremont.
Her culinary vision has always been to promote the influences of Eastern Europe on mainstream culinary menus, and with that “the sense of community, the belief that food should be simple and honest, of the highest quality, at the same time being revolutionary and spontaneous. A difficult balance to achieve, but one that drives trends, makes an impact, and most importantly leaves you feeling happy and full,” she says.
As one of small number of women in Executive Chef positions, promoting other women in the kitchen — and vineyard — has always been important to Pogrebinsky. To that end, on March 28, South Side will be hosting a Women’s History Month Wine Dinner, featuring only wines made by women, with commentary by Tracy English (Owner, Private Reserve Fine Wines) and dinner by Pogrebinsky. The winemakers include Chelsea Ramey Laboon (California), Molly Lippitt (California) and Caterina Sacchet-Lead (Italy).
GCP recently caught with Chef Natasha to discuss the event, Women’s History Month and women in the culinary world.
How did you come up with the Women’s History Month Wine Dinner?
I’m from Kiev, Ukraine, so we grew up celebrating International Women’s Day, March 8. All the boys in class would bring flowers to all the girls on that day. It was meaningful and sweet and something that was instilled in us as an important day. Last year, I hosted the first Women’s History Month Dinner and it was such a huge success that I now need to do it every year.
What made you want to become a chef?
My papa loves to tell the story of when I was a toddler, I would wait for him to come home from his studio so I could treat him to a made-up feast, I would play feed him all the time. I guess it was in me since then. In high school, I wanted to follow his career and become an artist, and in a way, I think that I have. Every chance I got to cook I took it; I worked in the kitchens at summer camp while I was a camper, I put on food shows in Tremont for galleries and other events, I hosted parties for my friends. In college we would go out all night with friends, and at dawn we would all crash at my house and I’d cook up whatever was in the cupboards. I was, and still am, completely obsessed with what a powerful force food is. Cooking for people, it’s education, it’s therapy, it’s entertainment, there’s no limit.
Do you feel women chefs face barriers male chefs do not? Did you have any mentors?
I had great mentors in the French Culinary Institute in NYC. Chef Jaques Pepin, Chef Veronica Lindemann and Chef Candy Argondizza — they were always tough on me because they knew I could go far. That was incredibly encouraging for me — nobody is born with the work ethic that is required to become a chef, you have to work at it, you have to sacrifice, you have to be hard on yourself sometimes. They never let me have it easy and I know that approach helped me grow.
The barriers that women chefs face in the kitchens today are many. Starting with separating chefs into “female” and “male” categories. It’s time to call a chef, chef, regardless of gender. We have to prove ourselves in areas where men are just assumed to be successful.
I’ve been asked in interviews many times, “can you handle the men?” Women have to be louder, more assertive, and more demanding in every aspect especially when ordering men to task, when negotiating pay, when demanding positive change in the workplace general. Women in this field have been told that we are “aggressive” when we exercise power, as opposed to men just being “decisive and assertive.” It’s a double standard that we have yet to overcome.
Women have a unique perspective, we raise children, often as single mothers, we are natural multitaskers and more sensitive to our surroundings. “Being sensitive” has been used against women in the workplace, but I think it is time we own it, we use it as a tool. Being “sensitive” just means that you are more aware of your, and other people’s, feelings. You can be more intuitive, you can anticipate people’s needs better, you can read and adjust or adapt to any situation and environment. All these are positive features.
The inequality statistics speak for themselves, there are more women in culinary than men, more women attending culinary schools, yet only a small few make it to the top positions of executive chef and other leadership roles.
Tremont Restaurant — Tremont Bar | Cleveland, Ohio (southsidecleveland.com)
2nd Annual Women’s History Month Dinner — The South Side (southsidecleveland.com)
In honor of Women’s History Month, Greater Cleveland Partnership is spotlighting Women-owned businesses, leaders, changemakers and events throughout March on our blog, website and social channels. We’d love your input. Email suggestions to [email protected]
Greater Cleveland Partnership’s All In vision for a Great Region on a Great Lake has five key priorities: Dynamic Business, Abundant Talent, Inclusive Opportunity, Appealing Community and Business Confidence. All of our work ties back to these values. This story relates to Inclusive Opportunity.