Meet the black women paving the way in Baltimore's food industry

In our series, A More Perfect Union, we aim to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, CBS News correspondent Chip Reid shares the story of black women in Baltimore paving the way in the food industry. 


Black women are responsible for some of this country's big culinary trends, but they make up just 4% of chefs and head cooks in American restaurants. Now, some of those women are turning up the heat to take a stand.

African-Americans outnumber all other residents of Baltimore by almost two-to-one, but the city's fast-growing foodie scene has been slow to catch up.

Charisse Nichols, the general manager of Bar Vasquez, has been mistaken for a hostess, been called racial epithets and even spat on, but she is committed to making the hospitality industry a place where black women can thrive. She believes that Baltimore is leading the charge.

"I have extreme faith that we're on the map for that reason," Nichols said.

Another toast of the trend is Linah Mathabane-Pool, the sommelier at the high-end Charleston restaurant. Mathabane-Pool said she's the rare vintage — one of just two top wine experts in Baltimore who are black women.

"Some people are surprised in such a pleasant way, which I love. It's because they haven't seen too many black women in this industry," Mathabane-Pool said.

Chef Cat Smith started sharing her recipe to help sharpen the skills of other African-American women, creating a calendar and a movement she named "Just Call Me Chef."

"This is a 'wow is me' movement, not a 'woe is me' movement," Smith explained. "We're not sitting here, 'oh, we're black women. We're being discriminated against. We can't do this.' It's like, 'No, sis, I see you shining over there. And we're gonna let the world know that we're shining and we're just as capable.'"

That's what she shows young girls in some of the most underserved areas of Baltimore through mentorship and education.

Back on the other side of Baltimore, Nichols hopes young girls can do even better. "I'd want them to do more. I'd want them to own the restaurant," Nichols said.

  • Chip-Reid_bio_140x100_bw.jpg
    Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.