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CityBusiness Women of the Year 2011 Winner: Executive Chef Haley Bitterman
Title: Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group corporate executive chef and director of operations
Family: husband, Russell; children, Auden, 5, Alexandria, 15
Education: Culinary Arts Academy graduate
Haley Bittermann’s career path didn’t always point to becoming corporate executive chef and director of operations for one of the better-known restaurant groups in the United States.
Bittermann, born in New York and raised in Cincinnati, at one point was a medical student, following in the footsteps of her British-born mother who worked as a cardiac researcher.
But after working at a family-run eatery, serving as a busser, server and eventually ending up in the kitchen during med school, she said cooking just felt like the right thing for her.
“You come to forks in the road in your life and you don’t realize they’re forks. And you may never realize how different your life would’ve been if you had chosen differently, and you may never know,” she said. “But it’s been an amazing run and I’m glad I made the choices I made.”
That run started in New Orleans with an externship at Mr. B’s Bistro, where Bittermann was later offered a full-time position as a line cook. That led to her being tapped to lead Bacco’s kitchen in 1993 at age 27.
“I’d never been to New Orleans and ... was glad I stayed because (the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group) never had a woman as head chef, and I was honored to be offered the position,” Bittermann said. “The job changed my life.”
That position took her all over the world and earned her appearances on “Today” and The Food Network. She has cooked meals for two U.S. presidents and foreign dignitaries, and contributed to the “Ralph Brennan’s New Orleans Seafood Cookbook” in 2008.
In 2000, Bittermann was promoted to corporate executive chef of the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group and most recently was a driving force in opening three new businesses this year — Café B on Metairie Road, Heritage Grill in Metairie and Ralph Brennan Catering and Events.
She played an integral role in selecting the site, developing the concepts, renovating and designing the spaces, and staffing.
In addition to her culinary contributions, Bittermann has collected clothes and toys for Covenant House, prepared Thanksgiving meals for Salvation Army shelters and participated in a gingerbread house-building workshop for patients at Children’s Hospital with staff from Red Fish Grill.
“Cooking is great,” Bittermann explained. “You’re nourishing people. You’re feeding them. It’s a different kind of connection. Feeding people is comforting to me ... and I get as much joy out of cooking the meal as the person eating it gets.”