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Understanding Sexism in Professional Kitchens

It seems there is an awful lot of misunderstanding regardingthe cooking industry recently. Lots ofpeople have been covering the Time article ‘Gods of Food’ and doing it verypoorly as they try to attach a feminist take on it. This is mainly due to a misunderstanding of the industry and the application of outside values on it, but there is also some willful blindness going on. I really didn’t want tobecome the resident ‘chef’ and talk about cooking all the time, but this isjust killing me inside and I feel like I mustset this straight.

Why Are WomenUnderrepresented in Fine Dining?

It’s not about self-promotion. It’s not. It’s not about that female tendency to be meek or not bragabout accomplishments. The culture in professional kitchens does not allowfor meek. The meek may leave the industry early in their career because of thisculture issue and there is an argument to be made that the culture itself isgross and unnecessary and I would agree with you if you argued that, but the current conversationis about why female chefs are underrepresented.Female chefs are badasses by default. It is a prerequisite to becoming a chef.


There is no such thing a female chef leading a kitchen andsaying to herself, “I wish I felt more comfortable talking about my food to thepress.” Partly because female chefs are BAMFs by default and partly because of anothermisunderstanding: you don’t call the press, the press calls you.

You see, Amanda Cohen was correct in the first part of herarticle. The fine dining press is a circle jerk of fellating maleness. Here’show it works: a restaurant is covered and a chef becomes a star. Every sixmonths at least someone from a major publication calls and wants to cover a new dish ormenu or something. New restaurants are covered too if they have associationswith the restaurants previously covered. Then all the smaller papers follow suit and that’s how a place gets ‘hot’. That’s how you get the press obsessedwith ‘family tree’ charts like we saw in the Time article. If you worked atNoma for five seconds you have more clout than someone who worked for nobodiesfor 15 years. Breaking into that isnearly impossible and no amount of feeling comfortable tooting your own hornwill change it either, whether you are male or female.


In fact, due to the same sexism everywhere else, this brashattitude can work against you if you are a woman. Men get lauded for beingdrinkers or being known for being tough on the staff or divas or whatever, butwomen are rejected for this same behavior. Same as everywhere else.

Sigh, The AwfulResponses From Female Chefs

What is it about chefs that seem to have everyone (authorsand commenters alike) so blind to the problematic things being said by femalechefs? Is it an awe of them that leads to less critique of their words? Thatrock star factor? These women have voices people listen to and here they aresaying such bullshit as the boys club isn’t a thing and suggesting women arebetter at low end cooking. The statements themselves are quite transparent,what worries me is how no one seems to have noticed whereas in any otherconversation, the things that have been said would be torn apart.


In her piece on Eater, Amanda Cohen starts off well. I agreewith everything she said about the press. I pointed out above how the circlejerk culture leads to stupid charts like the one we are all mad about here. Shesaid something horribly offensive though:

“I’ve never found male chefsanything but awesome and supportive, and if they have a boys club they must bekeeping it very secret. But Mr. Chua-Eoan says it’s a boys club, and so it’s aboys club”


Oh, I see, all the female kitchen professionals complainingabout the boy’s club are bullshitters and whiners. Sexism isn’t a thing in kitchen’s youguys, it’s just that the press refuses to cover women. The industry itself isfine, nothing to see here! In fact, by suggesting his article simply reflectsthe boys club, he is mansplaining about it. The boy’s club is not a thing!Sexism is over!

There are great arguments to use to critique the shittinessof Mr. Chua-Eoan’s article, but this is possibly themost wrong and offensive one to have chosen.


What about everyone’s hero Alice Waters?

”I thinkit’s a matter of how we go about our reviewing of restaurants. Is it reallyabout three star places and expensive eccentric cuisine? The restaurants thatare most celebrated are never the ones that are the simple places.” In herview a chart that simply looks at what restaurants spawn what other restaurantsis too narrow. “If you think about that differently and include writersand cooking school teachers and of course farmers, you’re talking aboutdifferent kind of family tree in the end. They aren’t the superstars but thoseare the people who are the backbone of really great food.”


Ohthanks Alice! See the problem is not that women are not represented in finedining. I mean, they aren’t, but if we just expanded fine dining to includeteachers and writers and low end simple food (you know everything we expect womento do in our patriarchy), you would find them overrepresented there! No shit,eh?

Finedining is fine dining. Women want to be badass at that too. Expanding thedefinition to include people who don’t even cook in restaurants doesnothing to solve that problem. It furthers it in fact by continuing the tropethat women are good at teaching and writing and soft skills and further sheimplies that they belong there.


If anyone else in any other article had made statements thistransparently problematic, we would have a field day with them, but for somereason, these chefs get a pass. Why?

I have been responding to a lot of comments about this issueand I keep hearing people point to the five or fewer female chefs that arefamous(ish) and using them to make an argument that female chefs exist and theproblem is the press. Well yes, the press has a problem, but pointing to a fewtoken females as representative of sexism in kitchens being over/not a thing isa very offensive argument too.


It reminds me of the sexism in video games argument whichgoes like this: “Women are totally represented in video games because Metroid,Beyond Good and Evil and Tomb Raider so shut up already wimminz, sexism is nota thing. Argument over.” Failing to notice the literally thousands of counter examples.

I can’t believe I am on a feminist website arguing tofeminists that pointing to a token does not erase the obvious sexism against women surrounding it, but here we are. I can’tbelieve people are failing to notice that 90-95% of fine dining chefsregardless of press are male.


All of the tokens people are referring to are of a group ofmaybe five names. All of them refer to these few names. That should tell yousomething in itself.

The Inherent PrivilegeIn These Quotes

Let’s not forget who we’re asking this question to here.These quotes I’m seeing are all from very accomplished people. Amanda Cohenowns her own place so she makes her own rules. Alice Waters – who the hell isgoing to question Alice Waters (me apparently, for one)? All of these chefshave either had the fortune to not have to deal with sexist bullshit or arefinancially stable enough to simply open their own place and write their ownrules. Must be nice.


Maybe Amanda Cohen and Cheryl Sandberg should get together and talk about feminism. That’s how much weight I put in Amanda Cohen’s take on sexism in kitchens. Try asking some women you’ve never heard of out there trying to makeit and you get this:

“Ughughugh. As a femalechef, this is such a huge sore for me. I have dealt with so much sexism in mycareer, as have most of the other female chefs I know, and not being recognizedfeels like another punch in the equality gut.”


A million times this.

The boys club is a thing. Women are severelyunderrepresented in fine dining and a token female does nothing prove otherwise. All of this applies to being a POC as well. Fine dining in addition tobeing very male is very white if you haven’t noticed (Go David Chang, but he’s North Americanizing his cultures food and I have heard Asian people have legitimate critiques of this). I can’t believe I have to say this when it is soobvious. Hopefully I can stop talking about cooking for a bit now. I do have other interests.

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