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Kitchen is brave new world for men

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

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women are taking their place in the kitchens of four-star eateries

while greater numbers of men are venturing into their kitchens at

home.

It’s a win-win situation for everyone. Feminists applaud the

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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

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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 %.

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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

and restaurants.

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 reitersinc@net-star.net, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, CA

92652, or via fax at 494-8979.


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