In honor of Women’s History (Herstory) Month, we’re celebrating the powerhouse women who run the kitchens in our restaurants. In an industry where women represent 50% of culinary school grads and 52% of restaurant workers but only 19% of executive chefs, Dig Inn’s team of head chefs are 40% women. Out of our 19 restaurants in New York and Boston, we have eight outstanding women at the helm:
-Shanieka Forrest (at 275 Madison Ave.)
-Kelly Gladstone (at 150 E. 52nd St.)
-Sydne Gooden (at multiple restaurants)
-Shana Jacques (at 17 E. 17th St.)
-Mona James (at 2884 Broadway)
-Amy Stonionis (at multiple restaurants)
-Joy Strang (at 1297 Lexington Ave.)
-Stephanie Yee (at 80 Pine St.).

We’ll be sharing interviews with all of them, so you can get to know the women who cook, lead, inspire, and make each kitchen her own.

Shana Jacques has worked at Dig Inn since before it was Dig Inn. Eleven years ago, she started as a 20-year-old “shake girl” at The Pump Energy Food, the original iteration of Dig Inn. She evolved with the restaurant, learning the skills needed to prepare amazingly good vegetable-forward food — and run an efficient kitchen. She’s now head chef at our Union Square restaurant (17 E. 17th St.) and credits Dig Inn as the place that taught her how to cook professionally, starting with how to properly wield a chef’s knife.

Shana grew up cooking in Flatbush, Brooklyn, alongside her parents, who immigrated from Haiti in 1984, and her four brothers. Despite her family’s enthusiasm for preparing large Haitian feasts, she never imagined she’d wind up in the restaurant industry. Instead, she focused on human services, earning her Bachelor’s degree from the City College of Technology while working at Dig Inn.

Yet, she found herself drawn more to the kitchen than to corporate life, thanks to a close-knit team (“I work with people who’ve been at Dig Inn/The Pump for 15 years”), trust in her leadership (“Dig Inn’s CEO, Adam Eskin, has seen me grow from a kid to head chef. That’s pretty badass.”), and her genuine love for the food she cooks every day (“The kale caesar is awesome, but I love to pinch at the mac & cheese too.”).

Read on to get to know Shana and try out the recipe for her family’s Haitian herb marinade. And be sure to come see her in the kitchen or on the marketline at Union Square!

How did your upbringing shape how you think about food?

Oh my god, my mom can cook. She loves making authentic Haitian meals but also trying foods from other cultures. She’ll learn recipes from her Guyanese friends, her Jamaican friends. And when she cooks, she cooks big. My mom and dad rotate preparing Sunday dinner, but when it’s my mom’s turn, she’ll roast a whole chicken after marinating it for a day in a Haitian herb blend [see recipe below]. It’s a very Haitian thing to season your meat ahead of time. She’ll serve the chicken with mashed potatoes with carrots, beets, and onions. My friends will come over and say they want to see me, but they’re carrying bowls so I know they just want food. My parents definitely instilled a love of sharing a good meal with others.

What have you learned most about yourself on your journey to becoming a chef?

I am strong. I didn’t think I’d be this strong. Growing up, I cared a lot more about others than myself, and I lost who I was. In the kitchen, I realized my values, my worth, what I want to do, and I started loving myself a lot more. I’m the first in my family to get a college degree. Sometimes I’ll look back and say, “Wow, look how far you’ve come” and give myself a pat on the back. Self-love is the best love.

What makes you feel powerful outside the kitchen?

Helping others. I volunteer at YAI, an organization that assists people with developmental disabilities, and Safe Horizons, where I help kids who are homeless prep for job interviews. I coach them on how to dress and how to conduct themselves, to not just say they want a job but explain why they want this specific job.

What’s your favorite Dig Inn home hack?

I drizzle the salmon and quinoa with the epis [Haitian herb marinade] my mom makes.

What’s in your perfect Dig Inn bowl?

Half farro/half greens, cashew kale Caesar, lemon-garlic broccoli, and herb-roasted chicken.

Shana’s Epis (Haitian Herb Marinade):

1 medium onion, roughly chopped
10 sprigs of parsley, stems cut off
6 scallions, roughly chopped
7 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup olive oil
½ cup water

Add all the ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth. Use the herb marinade on meats and fish.