Kickass Women in the Culinary Industry

These women continue to contribute to Orange County’s culinary scene.

KICKASS: Adjective 1. Having a strong effect on someone; powerful
2. Exceptionally good; spectacular, impressive


The women in our third edition of this list live up to both definitions and then some.
We’re proud to call them neighbors, friends, and leaders in our community.


Amanda Ho

Photographs by Emily J. Davis

Co-owner and CEO, Great Maple restaurant group

BONA FIDES: Teamwork is central to Ho’s philosophy in overseeing three—and soon to be four—Great Maple restaurants. Growing up in Orange County, Ho split time between her schoolteacher mother’s house in Laguna Beach and the Newport Beach home of her father, an entrepreneur. She played baseball on youth teams where there was typically only one other girl, and then focused on water polo, volleyball, and softball while at boarding school in Claremont. A Bryn Mawr graduate, Ho began studying for law school, but her heart wasn’t in it. Fascinated by the kitchen all her life (she’d watch food shows past bedtime), Ho followed her mother’s suggestion to consider culinary school, a move her father also supported. She attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and “never turned back.” She honed management and hospitality skills before launching Great Maple 13 years ago at Fashion Island. The elevated comfort food enterprise was born out of failure with a fine dining Italian restaurant that lasted only one year in the same spot. Now, with additional restaurants in Pasadena and San Diego, Great Maple is set to open this year at Disneyland Resort. The scramble to survive the pandemic, which included teaming up with staff leaders to distribute groceries to idled Great Maple employees, has made Ho particularly determined to maintain stability and keep growing.

IN HER WORDS: “Laying everyone off during the pandemic quite literally broke my heart. It was a very hard thing to do. This opportunity to grow our brand with Disney, the motivation is not capitalizing on the amazing thing that Disney is so much as the job security that I’m hoping it will bring for our teams across the board—and the potential to further grow our company, to be a choice employer and a really great place to work.”


Ali Coyle

Musician; sommelier; wine director

BONA FIDES: “ALI COYLE IS A BAND.” That’s an inside joke members of an Orange County-based indie pop group had printed on T-shirts: Ali Coyle is the name of the band and the proudly Irish American singer-songwriter who leads it. Growing up in Mission Viejo, she was introduced to the violin in elementary school, and later learned to play the mandolin and guitar and began writing songs of her own. She credits a trip to Ireland when she was 17 with giving her the courage to start singing them in public. She released her debut EP, “Songs for My Therapist,” in 2021. Dreamy and introspective with evocative Irish undertones, the songs were inspired in part by her coming out. She plans to drop “Dream Killer,” a single from her new collection next month. It’s a song she calls, “a love letter to your fears.” Coyle is also a trailblazer in the world of wine and spirits. She enrolled in the Wine & Spirit Education Trust sommelier school when she turned 22, one of the youngest and among the few female trainees at the time. Now she curates the wine programs at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach as well as her family’s other eateries in Mission Viejo—Wineworks for Everyone and Dublin 4 Gastropub. She puts on events and does the wine pairings for them. She’s a strong believer that everyone can be taught about the influences on various wines.

IN HER WORDS: “I grew up in Mission Viejo; now I live in downtown Santa Ana. I’ve been there for six or seven years. I love everything about it. It’s my favorite place. There’s so much community there. There’s so much art and experimentation. It’s unlike anywhere in Orange County. There’s history, diversity, art. Santa Ana puts on a lot of events. I’m very passionate about the place I live, and I’d like to become more and more a part of it.”


Leslie Nguyen

Founder, Miss Mini Donuts; cofounder, Bosscat Kitchen & Libations and Ten Sushi + Cocktail Bar

BONA FIDES: Nguyen’s first job was at Burger King when she was 15 and a student at Aliso Niguel High. She went on to be a hostess at Salt Creek Grille and moved up to server at various chain restaurants in and around Orange County. Once she turned 21, she started bartending, continued to drink and party, and loved it all. “I was always drawn to restaurants,” she says. In and out of school, she moved around and usually worked two or three jobs at a time, always with an eye toward opening her own place. In 2009, she got her “starter bar” with The Daily Dose Sports Lounge in Irvine. Forthright and candid about her addiction and mental health challenges, Nguyen collects friends and helpers with her generosity and warmth. She credits Miss Mini Donuts, her passion project, with providing a reason to go on during her depression. “The doughnuts saved my life. I’m going to give back what I can since I’m here. That’s my purpose. It’s been a huge driver with how I deal and cope with depression.” Her sobriety and the opening of the first Bosscat Kitchen both happened in 2014. Between Bosscat and Ten, there are now seven locations in O.C. and Texas under the umbrella of Daily Dose Hospitality, and she’s not done yet.

IN HER WORDS: “I never knew any of this was going to happen. I’m curious about the future, because (there was a time) I didn’t want a future. … After I stopped drinking, I was depressed and wanted to commit suicide. This is almost a free roll, a free life. I just don’t take things as seriously anymore. It’s been more freeing to not have expectations. It’s like living a second life.”

Read More from our March 2023 Kickass Women Issue: