FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The majority of restaurant kitchens are dominated by male chefs,
while the domestic cooking arena has traditionally been occupied by
the fairer sex. But the balance of power is rapidly shifting. More
women are taking their place in the kitchens of four-star eateries
while greater numbers of men are venturing into their kitchens at
It’s a win-win situation for everyone. Feminists applaud the
sharing of domestic responsibility, men get to explore an
undiscovered talent, and families of women who hate to cook are
suddenly eating very well.
A study conducted at the University of Minnesota School of Public
Health revealed that “27% of American men act as primary food
handlers for their families.” An article in the New York Times (Aug.
28, 2002), which refers to this study, explores the national
phenomena on a local level. But I decided to find out what was going
on right here in Laguna Beach.
My first stop was Laguna Culinary Arts, the new cooking school in
town that’s becoming very popular with both serious foodies and home
cooks aspiring to expand their repertoires. A recent visit with
Executive Director Nancy Milby and chef/instructor Megan Rainnie
confirmed that what is going on in the heartland and the big city is
indeed happening here.
Their estimate of male students was even higher -- 30 to 35 %.
While many of them are initially introduced to the school by
corporate team-building events, more than a few find the way
themselves. From auto mechanics to physicians and teenagers to
retirees, a profile emerges.
In some cases, learning how to cook is related to a hobby.
Fishermen want to present trophies at the table, and guys tending the
grill want to do more than stoke the coals.
About half of the wannabe cooks are brought to classes by their
significant others, and an overwhelming number of single men want to
impress the current and future women in their lives. Knowing how to
cook well does add more than a few points to the dating desirability
score. (Are some guys mining cooking classes for potential dates as
well?) Television chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay get a
noticeable thrill from adoring glances of women in their studio
audiences. Emeril needs only to yell “bam!” and female hearts beat a
little faster. Lots of men also watch these shows, featuring
telegenic testosterone smiles and chatter while reducing three hours
of hard labor into a tidy 30 minutes. Eighteen ingredients casually
whipped up into a fabulous dish looks as easy as taking out the
trash. What red-blooded American male wouldn’t want to wear an apron?
Nancy and Megan at Laguna Culinary Arts report that their male
adult and teenage students are avid viewers of the Food Channel, and
most of their younger aspiring cooks are high school boys. There must
be some connection.
No matter how old they are, or how they rank the status of their
love lives, all male cooking school students walk in the door because
they simply love to eat. Either their significant others aren’t
terrific cooks, or they’re single or divorced and tired of take-out
While it’s not yet clear how many local cooking school students
are Occasional Cooks who want to develop a few signature dishes, or
Family Feeders in full charge of their kitchens, certain personality
traits emerge among the men.
“They’re more passionate about what they’re doing,” said Nancy
Milby. “Once they get started, more men take additional classes.
They’re more adventurous and like to make up their own recipes. They
aren’t shy about asking questions, especially technical ones and
don’t arrive with very high expectations. What’s really interesting
is most of the men already know their way around the kitchen before
they get here.”
Like most men, these future gourmet cooks love gadgets and are
willing to spend major money on German knives, portable smokers and
cheese graters that resemble woodworking tools. They may be starting
a trend that replaces trophies for athletic prowess with the very
latest in expensive cooking equipment.
This shake up in the kitchen’s balance of power is “a good thing.”
Women are feeling less anxious about the expectation to be good at
something they don’t like to do. And men, who seem to be more
adventurous in the kitchen anyway, are having a good time replacing
many of them.
My nephew Steve, a corporate banker in New York, cooks all his
family’s meals and is in charge of every extended family gathering.
“My wife doesn’t even know where the kitchen is and I hope she
never finds it,” he said.
* LILLIAN REITER is a Laguna Beach resident. A self-described
“shameless foodie,” she is currently co-authoring a cookbook. She can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA
92652, or via fax at 494-8979.