Women on Top

Starting out with just a game-changing idea, a bulletproof business plan, or an electrifying design, these women are reinventing their industries and demolishing boys' clubs from the ranks of the military to Silicon Valley. They're all under 40, but those aren't stars in their eyes: They're planning a revolution.

By Sophie Moura

October 20, 2011 9:00 AM
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Peter Hapak
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Top Chef

Melissa Perello, 35, chef and owner, Frances restaurant

Résumé: Since her first Marie Claire appearance in 2006, Perello's taken over the foodie world with her casual brand of California cuisine. In 2009, she opened her San Francisco restaurant, Frances, to critical raves, including a Michelin star. (She's one of just 11 women among 108 Michelin-starred U.S. chefs.) Her menu changes seasonally, but one constant is calamari salad with vegetables and spices like African chermoula.

Background Check: "When I was in high school in 1989, chefs like Wolfgang Puck were blowing up; I decided I wanted to do that. At 16, I got a job at a country club, chopping vegetables and washing dishes 40 hours a week. I went to culinary school in 1994 and never looked back."

Big Break: "In 2007, I decided to open my own restaurant, and it took two more years to launch Frances — finding the location, rewriting my business plan eight times, and raising $400,000 from 14 investors. We got amazing press right away, and there's been a two-month waiting list for reservations ever since! I repaid my investors after a year and a half; I'd planned to do it in three. That felt good."

Kitchen Confidential: "Kitchen work is intense — it's a race, and you're always getting screamed at. During my culinary school internship at Aqua in San Francisco in 1995, the chef, Michael Mina, cursed at me regularly. I'd go home, cry, and have work-related anxiety dreams. But then when he praised my chiffonade of basil, it was all worth it."

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