On April 17 the nation’s top culinary and hospitality talent will gather for the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR) 23rd Annual National Conference for two days of mentor sessions, panel discussions, cooking competitions and celebrations at the InterContinental Los Angeles Century City.

And though many amazing female chefs will be coming from far and wide to participate, the Westside boasts its own female chef population who will be joining in the festivities.

The conference’s theme for 2016 is “Imagine Your Dreams and Ignite the Future,” a theme the organization hopes will offer valuable strategies for women to develop their hospitality careers and maximize opportunities.

The event will cover a range of topics, including social media, artisanal milling, GMOs, equal pay, advances in kitchen technology and much more.

Past WCR president, graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, chief creative officer of Chefwear and Santa Monica resident, Rochelle Huppin believes that the conference offers participants the truly valuable experience of connecting in person.

“There is still something to be said about getting people together in person and having the opportunity to make a lot of connections in a particular industry that way,” Huppin said. “It is also very valuable to try and mentor other women, and that is a big component of WCR. It is basically about education and mentoring and that can only go so far online. But once a year we will gather for a conference and that is very valuable.”

Founded in 1993, WCR is a nonprofit organization that works to promote and enhance the education, advancement, and connection of women in food, beverage, and hospitality businesses across the world. And those are values that the Santa Monica-based conference participants can wholeheartedly get behind.

“I believe that the biggest challenge in the hospitality industry for women is to be strong enough of a woman to deal with all these crazy men,” chef de cuisine at Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen, Brittany Cassidy, said. “You have to have thick skin and be strong and confident enough to stand next to them and blow them out of the water with your technical and social abilities.”

Carla Corona, the pastry chef who runs the bakery at M Street Kitchen, believes that getting respect from male counterparts in the industry is one of the toughest challenges that female chefs face.

“Often we are smaller, we’re not as strong, we can be perceived as ‘moody’ or irrational by others,” Corona said. “Because of this, and even though it’s not true, we have to work twice as hard as men.

Amy Berman, owner of Vanilla Bake Shop, will tell women looking to enter the culinary industry “it’s a tough business.”

“I think you have to look more at long term goals and realize that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get there,” Berman said. “But once you get there, you will realize that the experiences have been amazing and that you have made some true lasting relationships.”

Huppin said that what she loves about WCR is what the women gain from sharing with one another.

“You always learn by sharing with somebody, by trying to teach someone. It cuts both ways.” Huppin said.

Huppin thinks the bar is raised each year for the conference and this year’s conference is no exception. She is especially excited that it is being hosted so close to home and hopes the location will bring attention to the female chefs in Santa Monica.

jennifer@www.smdp.com