The Fame Game: Why Do Women Chefs Get Shafted?

Illustration for article titled The Fame Game: Why Do Women Chefs Get Shafted?

"Mad Men–style ass-pinching may have gone the way of aspic, but women, for all of their gains in the restaurant industry, are dealing with a more subtle form of sexism: visibility, or lack thereof."

So says Time Out New York, adding that, "while it’s no longer a rarity to see women in the professional kitchen, it is surprisingly uncommon to find them in top positions. That translates to a lack of recognition." Big-name chefs are still male; only ten percent of executive chefs in America are women. And while female pastry chefs are fairly common, they're not generally regarded with the prestige that are their steak-searing brethren.

Says one female chef, “The public loves the new hot chef. But it’s never a woman, it’s always a man.” This is, in part, due to the fact that many female chefs have opted for low-key restaurants rather than stages for their egos. As another tells Time Out, “We’re more in mom-and-pop places, and that’s why we’re not getting as much media...There’s a tendency for women to not make it about us.”


Of course, it should be said that at this point, Giada deLaurentiis or Ina Garten is at least as recognizable as a Tom Colicchio or a Mario Batali. The difference, of course, is that these women aren't exactly "chefs" to the public so much as friends, moms, home cooks -— we defer to them not so much as masters of technical expertise but as people whose taste we trust. And they're not doing anything to sway the press coverage at a Gourmet event or adjust the numbers in the higher echelons of haute cuisine. But then, as we've said before, "haute cuisine" by its definition is masculine: aren't there worse things than slowly but surely eroding these definitions? The answer shouldn't necessarily be for women chefs to adopt the swagger of their male counterparts, but for another form of "chef" to become recognized as just as viable and just as — if not more — pleasing to people who eat. Classical cuisine means training under abusive masters, adhering to a rigid hierarchy, and occasionally committing suicide when you lose a Michelin star. I get wanting the option, but surely we can do better.

Bitchin' Confidential [Time Out New York]

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Top female chefs that immediately jump to mind: April Bloomfield, Cat Cora, Anita Lo, Traci Des Jardins, Elizabeth Faulkner, Alexandra Guernaschelli (mmm, Butter), and... ok, that's not too many. Can I list April Bloomfield twice for sheer pig-based awesomeness?

I think one thing that is often left out of the discussion about women in the professional kitchen (which, I agree, is rife with sexual harassment, though if you read the works of major male chefs, the women who can hack it in the professional kitchen — who can give as good as they get — become untouchable) is the amount of time one needs to devote to the job.

A double shift for a professional chef is from 4 a.m. to well after midnight. A single shift is at least 10 hours, if not 12-14. If you want to have a child, ever, you're going to have to stop working. Unless, that is, you're wleathy enough and okay with having someone else raise your kid.

As long as women cntinue to want to have families, their ability to devote their entire lives and entire days to food is going to be diffult. But the female chefs who do make it, and who do gain celebrity, do so because they are every inch as talented as their male peers, and you better believe that they are every bit as respected.