Restaurant Gender Gap

More Women in the (Restaurant) Kitchen

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jan 27, 2014    •    747 Views

Women have been top chefs for awhile. We just don’t hear about them.

Louis XV awarded the “cordon bleu” to a female chef. Legend has it that, refusing to have a woman cook for him, his mistress asked the King to eat with her without saying that her female chef prepared the meal. According to NYC chef and restaurant owner Amanda Cohen, the meal started with “a thick pheasant jelly, followed by the crust of a French roll filled with eel livers. Then came a hash of snipe, a supreme of chicken, crayfish cooked in Sauterne, a roast pullet, and it ended with kickshaws (which are a catch-all phrase for elaborate little delicacies).” When his mistress saw that the King was “blown away” she “demanded” that he present the woman with a prestigious award. And hence, she got the Medaille de l’Ordre du Saint-Espirit–the Cordon Bleu.

Indeed, for centuries, the number of female chefs has been small. However, telling the stories of major female chefs in a recent article, the NY Times says the gender gap in the restaurant kitchen is narrowing. Called a “quantum leap,” restaurant staff is now 30 to 50% female at major restaurant companies. Correspondingly, more women are becoming chefs de cuisine and executive chefs and, at culinary schools, they are not necessarily becoming bakers.

Still though, in a recent cover story from Time, “The Gods of Food,” few if any women were mentioned (I did not read the gated article–only a description). Obviously angry that the article was perpetuating the myth of a chefs’ Boys Club, chef Amanda Cohen pointed out that…

  • The article excluded Boston entrepreneur Barbara Lynch and other notable women who own and run major and multiple restaurants.
  • A woman runs the White House kitchen.
  • Like a family tree, names on the Time chart of chefs  should have included women.
  • Chez Panisse legend Alice Waters is not on the chart.
  • They did not mention that the woman who was the first chef ever to win 6 Michelin stars trained super star chef Paul Bocuse.
  • What about Julia Child?

Obviously, the gender gap remains in the restaurant business. However, in an industry that employs close to 1 out of every 10 people in the US, an increasing number of females are in charge.

Very soon, when someone says “the chef,” we will not automatically picture a man.

Sources and Resources: The NY Times and Amanda Cohen’s blog (here and here) have a wonderful array of facts about women in the restaurant business.

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