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Woman Breaks Barrier... By Cooking

Illustration for article titled Woman Breaks Barrier... By Cooking

Last night, Stephanie Izard became the first woman to win Bravo's Top Chef, the elimination cooking show that just finished its fourth season. Even though it is a reality show, Stephanie was always exceedingly pleasant, as was one dude in the final three, Richard Blais. Naturally, the Big Bad Lesbian Lisa Fernandes (one of three in this season's competition) was the villain, even though she was probably just edited that way. Anyway, it's sort of funny that as much as women do most of the cooking in the world, when it comes to doing it for people who pay, men are at the top of that game. And by funny I mean it sucks.

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But, seriously, look around the next time you're out to dinner somewhere nice. Chances are, the executive chef is a man. At the end of Top Chef Season 3, New York Magazine interviewed seven prominent female chefs in New York about sexism in the industry. All of them had stories about being ignored by everyone from colleagues to vendors, about the difficulty of finding investors to open your own restaurant or worrying about being a "gimmick" chef due to gender, and about how "girls" go into pastry because baking is considered more of a woman's job in a professional kitchen. The most prominent chefs in the country (and on television) are men, the biggest and most difficult-to-get-into restaurants in any city usually have kitchens run by men, and, heck, the nicer the restaurant, the more likely it is for even the waitstaff to be male. Many of us rhapsodize about Mom's home cooking, but we vote for Dad's fancy steaks when we're out and about without even thinking about it.

So, the next time you're out for a nice dinner, maybe take your feminism along and make a point to patronize a place where a woman's in charge of more than just your seating or your dessert. As Stephanie, Lisa and a lot of other women out there prove, not every woman's place is in the kitchen, but some women work really well there.

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Finale Wrap-Up: "Top Chef" [Salon]
A Woman’s Place? [New York Magazine]

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DISCUSSION

stoprobbers
stoprobbers

@BabyJane: I doubt it. The proportion of men to women in the kitchen (especially running the kitchen) is OVERWHELMING. Even in Boston. Anthony Bourdain has written rather extensively, and fairly might I add, on the subject.

@KittenFluff: Lisa was kept on the show because her dishes were consistently the best of the worst (or at least not the worst of the worst). The judges have said over and over again — and this season Tom has been very aggressive about this — that chefs are judged based on their dishes for each challenge and that the producers have NEVER interfered to keep people on. That Lisa was a bitch worked out nicely for the drama, but had she made the worst dish in any given episode, she'd have been GONE.

@ChristieLove: Gordon Ramsey also began his career as a pastry chef and was ridiculed mercilessly for it. And then he studied savory cooking under Marco Pierre White, became a genius, opened restaurants, won Michelin Stars at an unprecedentedly early age, and now has TV shows on FOX.

@heavysyrup: I think you meant to say "charismatic" not "enigmatic." And, yes, perhaps if she had been charismatic we would've liked her more. I also think that if she had had a decent attitude in almost any situation she'd have been more well-liked. That woman was a BITCH. And there's no doubt that you have to be a hardass in the kitchen to get by if you're a woman, but I don't know a single chef that would ever hire anyone like Lisa. Almost everyone who encountered her on the show was left with a distate for her (some, like Dale, hated her passionately; others, like Bourdain, were satisfied to say they'd rather avoid her in real life), and they were not encountering edited Lisa.

No one ever wanted to work with her, either. Ever. That's not editing. That's a bad attitude. And I'm very, very glad she didn't win. Cooking excedptional thai food in the last challenge doesn't make you top chef. Especially not with a little genius like Stephanie thinking circles around you. Braised pistachios? WANT!