Woman Up: Meet The Women Running Dig Inn’s Kitchens
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 70 Prince St.)
-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.
As one of Dig Inn’s six area chefs, Amy Stonionis oversees the kitchens in multiple restaurants, guiding the chefs at each location to culinary greatness. Along with setting goals for the kitchen teams and keeping an eye on operations, she swoops in during the lunch rush to dress gem wedges and grill wild salmon fillets.
Growing up in Swoyersville, Pennsylvania, a former coal-mining town with a large Eastern European population, Amy learned from her Slovak-Lithuanian family how to hunt, forage, pickle, and preserve. One of her earliest memories at age 4 was stomping around in a bucket of sauerkraut, her tiny feet massaging salt and caraway seeds into the cabbage.
After years of cooking in local restaurants, Amy moved to Manhattan to attend the Institute of Culinary Education. Starting culinary school at 26, she set herself the goal of becoming executive chef by age 30. Two months shy of her 30th birthday, she was named head chef at Murray’s Cheese. Despite what seems to be a popular dream of eating cheese all day long, she moved upstate five years later to open Bartlett House, a farm-to-table restaurant and bakery. Located in Ghent, New York, it brought her closer to her farmer friends and the ingredients she cooked with every day.
A brutally cold and lonely winter upstate convinced her to return to NYC (specifically, Crown Heights). Now at Dig Inn, where she joined three months ago, she brings local, seasonal, and sustainably grown vegetables to even more eaters. If you see her in one of our restaurants, say hello and ask about her passion for pickling!
How did your upbringing shape how you think about food?
My family preserved everything. We cured salami in our basement and made jam from wild blueberries that I collected in a Folger’s coffee can. When I was growing up, I never had a fresh tomato in December, because the ones we ate in winter were always canned from the summer. I didn’t realize how all this was shaping me, but my family made me aware of the seasons. I carried that into my culinary career without even really knowing it.
Was there anything you didn’t want to eat as a kid?
When I was 11, my dad brought home a snapping turtle from the swamp and made it my job to feed the turtle every day. I didn’t realize I was fattening it up. One day, I went into the backyard, and there was my turtle, which I had named Mortimer Stonionis the First. My dad told me I had to shoot it, and then he prepared the turtle into soup. I was so angry, I didn’t speak to him for months. But I eventually realized, if you’re not fully using what you hunt or gather, it’s really so wasteful. That was a hard lesson to learn at an early age, but now one of my favorite things to make is snapping turtle soup. I feel it really honors the memory of the animal. In rural Pennsylvania, they serve it with a sidecar of sherry.
What have you learned on your journey to becoming a chef?
Humility. A lot of people coming out of culinary school call themselves chefs. I would never say I was a chef. I would say “I’m a line cook” or “I’m a prep cook.” I didn’t call myself a chef until two years ago. In the kitchen, there are so many different variables, and until I could fix anything — from repairing equipment to dealing with three cooks calling out to working the line — I wasn’t a chef. Ego is the greatest enemy of any chef. There’s really no place for ego in the kitchen. The kitchen should be about humility and love and creating a great experience for your guests.
What’s your favorite vegetable?
My favorite vegetable isn’t a vegetable — it’s a mushroom. They remind me of my childhood, the woods, the smell of fall. Mushrooms come out right after the rain, so you get that smell of damp leaves. I would pick hen of the woods, oyster, and honey mushrooms, which are similar to shiitakes. They grow in the same place every year as long as you don’t cut the roots out. I love the ritual of foraging.
What’s in your perfect Dig Inn bowl?
Brown rice, candy-stripe beets, lemon-garlic broccoli, wild Alaskan salmon, and pesto.
What’s your go-to Dig Inn home hack?
My best advice for any leftovers is to put an egg on it and mix in some fermented vegetables.
Amy’s Fried Brown Rice with Kimchi:
Heat a glug of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add a cup of cooked brown rice and a few dashes of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and toasted sesame oil. Cook until warmed through. Top with a fried egg and chopped kimchi.