The uproar over Time magazine’s article headlined "Gods of Food," which seemed to imply that culinary Olympus was a clubhouse where no women were allowed, continues to generate comment. The latest is a blog post on Time’s own website that gives voice to the comments of some women chefs.
The post points out that this male-centric view of cooking is not something that originated with the magazine’s article. After all, of San Pellegrino’s list of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World, only two are run by women -- “both of whom are one half of a male-female team.” And the last seven James Beard Foundation chefs of the year have been men.
The women chefs interviewed -- Allison Barshak, former chef at Striped Bass in Philadelphia; Alice Waters of Chez Panisse; Barbara Lynch, who runs eight highly praised restaurants in Boston; and Teresa Montaño of Pasadena’s Racion -- attribute this to a variety of factors.
There are societal pressures: Barshak says she left Striped Bass, which had been named the best new restaurant in America by Esquire magazine, because she needed to care for her ailing father. “My perspective changed: I wanted to be with family at night. Different things are important to me now.”
Lynch says women don’t get the same media attention -- partly, at least in her case, by choice. “I used to think the fame part was a pain,” she says. “I thought it took too much and it was too phony. Now I will grasp the fame and the public image because I think I can inspire people. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about the next generation. We need more women in this business.”
Waters says the problem is the way we look at restaurants. “Is it really about three-star places and expensive eccentric cuisine? The restaurants that are most celebrated are never the ones that are the simple places.”
To my way of thinking, it’s probably a bit of all three. And I would argue that the issue might not be gender-specific.
The chefs who tend to get selected for these kinds of lists have worked very hard at getting noticed. This sometimes means sacrificing family time. It certainly means chasing after attention.
And that usually means serving the kind of food that is out of the mainstream. You’ll rarely get talked about as a great chef because you make a perfect pommes Anna, but if you add uni to it, or encapsulate it in sodium alginate, by golly, the world will beat a path to your door.
There are plenty of male chefs who are unwilling to make these sacrifices. Unfortunately, you’ll rarely read about them, either.
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