Why don't women need to wear watches? Because there's a clock on the stove! I'm running out of good sexist jokes, but I think I heard that one in middle school and somehow it stuck with me. Of all the stupid things you can say about women, that they belong in the kitchen is a classic. Or rather, it's outdated. With each year, we move farther and farther from a society that says it's a woman's job to cook. Unfortunately, our progress is not so evident in those cases when it really is a woman's job to cook. If you believe newspapers, food blogs, and award-givers, cooking at the highest professional levels is, in fact, a man's job. As New York Magazine's food blog Grub Street points out this month, the media--and so investors, and so the general public--are "not paying attention" to female chefs, in New York or anywhere else.
Grub Street's article puts the spotlight on New York lady-chef Amanda Cohen, owner and chef of the consistently well-reviewed vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy. Cohen also happens to be owner of the outspoken Dirt Candy blog--on which she posted the biting entry "Girls Can't Cook," which came to the (sarcastic) conclusion that women never win James Beard Awards ("the Oscars of cooking") and get only a small fraction of the mentions their male counterparts receive in the popular media and therefore must really suck as chefs. Her entry brought attention to the fact that this year, of 24 James Beard Award winners, three were women--one a pastry chef, and one a lifetime acheivement award winner who shared said award with her husband. While these accomplishments are not small ones, the lack of hot, up- and-coming female chefs in the public eyes means that women often cannot get the financial backing they need to start new places. There are no shortage of women writing about food: Cohen points out that "one of the most famous lifestyle and food celebrities in the world is Martha Stewart, and you can tell by her name that she's a woman!" And yet, after tracking the restaurant blog Eater, Cohen found that its authors called Odette Fada "one of New York's preeminent female chefs," only to mention her in their posts twice... in three years. In comparison, David Chang (Momofuku) appeared 86 times and Nate Appleman (Pulino's) 42.
This conversation has come up before: in 2007, New York Magazine ran a feature asking seven women running kitchens in New York City why they were exceptions to what seemed like a rule. What's so interesting about this latest Grub Street foray into understanding kitchen disparity is that calls out previous articles for not directly pointing at sexism as a possible cause. Instead, we tend to hear that women are uncomfortable asking for money and more likely to leave long hours and harsh working conditions to raise a family. Now, female chefs are speaking up again. Patricia Williams, newly of Smoke Jazz and Supper Club, was just interviewed by the Village Voice blog about industry sexism, from the media, from investors, and even from other women. One certain conclusion she came to? If female chefs are not being celebrated, it's not because they can't make it in the kitchen: "There was an article recently that said, 'Maybe they can't carry the same weight [as male chefs],' she was quoted as saying. "Let me tell you, there's not a sous or a chef that carries any more than a woman in a kitchen. You figure out ways to do it."
If they don't get mentioned anywhere else, here is a list of accomplished female chefs, and the kitchens they run:
Amanda Cohen, Dirt Candy, New York City
Patricia Williams, Smoke and Jazz Supper Club, New York City
April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig, New York City
Gabrielle Hamilton, Prune, New York City
James Beard Award Winner Koren Grieveson, Avec, Chicago
Anita Lo, Annisa (recently re-opened), New York City
Missy Robbins, A Voce, New York City