I could start this article by simply asking: “Why is this even a topic for discussion?” The truth of the matter is that we shouldn’t need to identify people by gender in a professional kitchen. Chefs and managers shouldn’t hire male or female cooks – they should hire competent cooks regardless of gender. The only question is: “Can the individual do the job?” Tall, small, black white, American, European, Asian, Mexican, South American, or African; young or old, male or female, it doesn’t really matter – does it?
So why should we have the conversation? Because there are far fewer women in professional kitchens, especially in the role of executive chef, than there could or should be. Ironically, there are more women restaurant managers than men, but the disproportionate ratio in the kitchen remains a mystery.
Let’s look at some of the erroneous arguments that are part of the “hidden excuses” that some operators will make.
- THE WORK IN A KITCHEN IS TOO PHYSICALLY DEMANDING FOR WOMEN:
Response: BULL! I have known many women cooks and chefs with physical strength and stamina to rival any male in the same role.
- KITCHENS ARE EMOTIONALLY DEMANDING AND WOMEN TEND TO FIND THIS MORE CHALLENGING THAN MEN:
Response: BULL! Yes, kitchens are emotional powder kegs that could use a bit more compassion and empathy. This is not mutually exclusive to women. By the way, I have seen many men break down in a kitchen.
- THE KITCHEN (NATURE OF THE BEAST) IS A VERBALLY INTENSE AND SOMETIMES VERBALLY ABUSIVE ENVIRONMENT THAT MEN SEEM MORE ACCEPTING OF:
Response: First, maybe it’s time for kitchens to not accept this verbal abuse as the norm. This is an old school standard. Don’t think for a minute that men are always accepting of this somewhat hostile environment. Second, I have known many women cooks and chefs who can dish it out as well as any New York City longshoreman.
- WOMEN REACH A POINT WHERE FAMILY TAKES PRECEDENT OVER THE DEMANDS OF THE KITCHEN:
Response: BULL! Why does anyone think that this dilemma is exclusive to women? Many male cooks and chefs come to the same crossroad as women. Family SHOULD take precedent over the kitchen. There are plenty of career opportunities that allow this to happen.
I never hear people say or infer that women can’t cook as well as men, because they can. I never hear people say that women are not organized enough to run an efficient kitchen, because they are. I rarely her people say that women can’t supervise staff as well as men, because they are typically better at this. And, I never hear people say that women are not artistically talented enough to design creative, kick-ass menus, because they typically outshine their male counterparts.
So, why aren’t there more women cooks and chefs? Why aren’t we talking about great women chefs in the same manner that we refer to Keller, Trotter, Adria, Batali, English, Blumenthal, and Chang? What about Waters, Melisa, Cooper, Bastianich, Silverton, Lynch, Rogers, Spicer, des Jardins, Lewis, Bloomfield, Notter, and Zenamick? These women are just as talented as their male contemporaries.
We talk about the great chefs in culinary schools, through the James Beard Awards, in every food magazine, and through our professional organizations. Do we think to adequately include those women who have and continue to make a difference?
Let’s not focus so much on creating separate categories of male chefs and female chefs. They are all cooks and chefs. Let’s acknowledge this and look to creating a more inclusive environment, one that recognizes people for their ability to do the work, not which category that they fit in.
It’s not sufficient to recognize Julia Child and Fanny Farmer, because, as important as they were, they were never professional chefs or cooks. Let’s talk about women cooks who sweat on the line like their male counterparts, burn their arms, stand 12 hours on their feet, lift the same 10 gallon stock pots, and manage to crank out 200 plus covers on a Friday night.
There was a time when to state that a woman’s place was in the kitchen would have been considered an insult. Today, it is most appropriate to say that a woman’s place IS in the kitchen both as a cook, and as an operational chef at the helm of any operation.
Women Chefs and Restaurateurs
America’s Best Female Chefs
****PHOTO: Chef Vicky Breyette preparing for service.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
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