Blazing A Female Culinary Path

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Story by Dave Eckert

My two articles this month focus on women who’ve often had to swim upstream against strong currents to craft careers in professions traditionally dominated by men. In SIPS, you’ll meet a winery owner and winemaker, a distillery owner and master distiller, and a brewmaster and brewery owner. Here, in Indulgences, I examine the female food side of the spectrum with a barbecue pitmaster, a sausage maker, and a rancher/butcher. 

Photo courtesy of The Slab

First, the pitmaster and one of my very best friends – Stephanie Wilson, co-founder of The Slabs championship barbecue team.

I asked Wilson how, when, and why she became interested in barbecue? “I attended competitions that my Aunt Bunny and Uncle Rich took part in when I was in my early 20’s. My brother and cousin started their own team in 1996. I was the party coordinator and was asked to join the team after the 1997 American Royal,” Wilson recalled.

Wilson says she was never discouraged from pursuing a career in barbecue, but she has certainly felt added pressure being a woman in this uber-male field. “DEFINITELY!!! My response to that was to man the pit just as well, if not better, than my competitors, regardless of gender,” Wilson shared.

Wilson says she loves barbecue and the life it’s given her. “The friendships and giving back is amazing. I’ve been doing this for over 26 years, and the thing that keeps me going back is spending time with family and friends and using my knowledge to give back charitably,” Wilson smiled.

Photo courtesy of Werner’s Fine Sausages

Bernadette Gumpert has been shattering stereotypes her entire adult life as the main sausage maker for the much beloved Werner’s Fine Sausages on Johnson Drive in Mission, Kansas. I was told she was “Up to her elbows in sausages” when I initially reached out to her. So, I left my name and number, and “Bernie,” as she goes by, was kind enough to call me back. Bernie has been blazing this non-traditional female career path for 26 years. “I really just fell into it. Initially, they were looking for someone to work outside on the grill on Saturdays, so I did that. But I hated working outside, so I spoke to the owner, Dave Miller. He asked me if I wanted to learn how to make sausages. He had just acquired the business and was all alone and struggling. I was all for it,” Gumpert shared.

Gumpert says she loves making sausages and enjoys the fact that she’s in the back of the shop and not dealing with customers as she is, at her core, an introvert. She says most customers don’t care who’s making the sausages, they just love the product at Werner’s and have for generations. I asked her what she loved about what she does from a professional and personal standpoint. “I like the family aspect at Werner’s. We’re such a small team that everyone here feels like a family member. I’m not in it for fame and glory. I just like the work and I hope to be making sausages here for a long, long time,” Gumpert said.

Photo courtesy of The Uppercut KC

Finally, a chat with Mariah Kinkade, owner of The Uppercut KC, a gourmet butcher shop in the Northland. Kinkade raises her own cattle, can easily butcher her own meat, and helps craft a growing line of sausages, sides, seasonings, and more. “I got degrees in animal science and business at Kansas State. I always thought I would continue on to vet school, but not long after I graduated, I realized I didn’t want to go to school for another four years. I did want to run my own business, though. My family raised cattle, and always talked about opening a retail shop. Right place at the right time, I guess. This just fell into place,” Kinkade reflected.

Kinkade says it hasn’t been easy being a woman, and a young woman at that, in the testosterone-dominated business of butchery, but she says, if anything, that’s made her drive to succeed even stronger. “I put a lot of pressure on myself because I’m very driven and I want to be the best at anything I do. I won’t say all female-owned businesses are great, but there are certain things I believe women are better at. For me, it’s a focus on details, cleanliness, and bending over backwards to make our customers happy,” Kinkade told me.

Seven years in, and now approaching 30-years old, Kinkade admits the business has taken its toll, but she also says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’ve postponed marriage and children because I don’t think I’d be the best wife or mom right now. But professionally, I think I’ve shown I have no limits. We’re breaking ground on a new facility soon. We’re working with great people and chefs. We’re going to start serving sandwiches. We’re beginning coffee service. We’re getting a liquor license. It’s hard balancing my professional and personal lives, but I feel I will be able to do it,” Kinkade excitedly shared.

I wouldn’t bet against her, or any of these three ladies.    

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