Where are the women chefs? Many are asking this question, and it comes natural. Cooking has always been a woman’s domain, and the nourishment, as the procreation, is a concept uniquely feminine—the first meaning of nourishing in Latin is breast-feeding—so, why is it that the majority of the chefs are men? There a plenty of reasons, and none of them is a big mystery. To be a chef, one needs to undertake a strenuous educational path to which women haven’t been able to participate until recent times for sociocultural reasons we all know. The job is physically exhausting: whether in the kitchen or in the office running a restaurant, this is like a professional sport that leaves little space to create or manage one’s own family. Escoffier was not a woman, and no one of the great cooking books in history has been written by a woman: cooking’s gender could be just female, but the culinary art has been written by men, the first academies, opened by men, and the first theories, created by men. We live in a society founded on the patriarchal monogamic family since thousands of years: the fact that men want to excel precisely in the realm built by women is not such a surprise, but it seems rather the same old desire for parthenogenesis, but among pots and pans. Women’s condition is not extremely positive nowadays in many sectors, but let’s remember that, for example, in the Twenties, British female kitchen staff couldn’t serve or even show up at the nobles’ table. In brief, if we don’t see many women in the Haute Cuisine environment or on the podium of the Bocuse D’or competition, we just need to be a little patient. With more women enrolled at the academies, there will be more women in the kitchens and more winners of international awards.
In the meantime, the few women chefs deserving attention should be treated as cooking professionals, and not as emancipated women. It is not acceptable to keep on lingering on gender differences every time we talk about a woman that successfully works in an environment mostly dominated by men. Cooking doesn’t have gender—that’s what you’ll hear from any woman in this field. Few years ago, in an article of Gourmet magazine, a journalist tried to ask some questions about sexism in kitchens to several women chefs in New York City, and all of them refused to answer and wanted, instead, the interview to focus on their cuisine. Although NYC is in a constant gestation of restaurants, women chefs are still very few and this, according to them, happens because women are less confident when it’s time to talk money and get financed. In Northern California, for example, the gender of chefs is not an issue. Thanks to the influence of a chef such as Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, and the open sexual culture of San Francisco, there are many women enrolled at the Culinary Academy, and many others that work or own restaurants. The pastry chef of the 3-Michelin star restaurant French Laundry of Thomas Keller is a woman.
One feels like sighing with bitterness, then, when one reads the programs of big culinary conventions such as the Italian Identità Golose (Appetizing Identity), held in Milan just three weeks ago. For its eighth edition, this congress finally decided to introduce in its program some of the Italian women chefs, but it did this while keeping the mentality that had excluded them until then. Not only were they put in a side program—it was called Identità Donna (Woman’s Identity) and obviously it was not alongside a Men’s Identity program; the “big” chefs were simply parading on the main stage—but it was also subtitled by the horrid non siamo gli angeli (del focolare) (we are not the perfect housewives, the “angels of home”). These women chefs not only accepted to be stored in this box “in pink”—but could we blame them? A cook is also a restaurant, and in these times, it’s better a little publicity that no publicity at all—but many of them developed their demo around the diversity of gender, the contrast, the we are not element, like chef Aurora Mazzucchelli who said, “for us numbers don’t count, but for men, the numbers, the inches . . .” If cooking has no gender, it’s time to make women and men appear in the same stage, it’s time for women to convince themselves that there is no place in the world for a “cuisine in pink.,” and that, as newyorker chef Alexandra Guarneschelli told Gourmet, “When women chefs get media attention, it’s for bucking the norm. How about we just become part of the norm?”
This article was obviously written by a woman: “obviously” because maybe it is not much known, but the food & wine publishing industry (and the publishing industry in general) is inhabited and run mostly by women.