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What makes a chef great?
December 6, 2010 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Why Are There No Great Women Chefs? In 2007 Michelin awarded French chef Anne-Sophie Pic three stars, making her only the fourth woman in her country’s history to receive that honor (fifty years had passed since the last of her sex had garnered that third sparkler).2 The following year, in the United Kingdom, it was considered breaking news when ten female chefs won any Michelin stars at all...[For] the 2009 James Beard Awards gala... “Women in Food” was the chosen motif, but since only sixteen of the evening’s ninety-six nominees were, in fact, women, it seemed like a cruel joke. In the end, only two of those sixteen went home victorious, out of nineteen winners total...[I]n Bravo tv’s Top Chef Masters competition, a paltry three out of twenty-four American “Masters” were women. [via 3 Quarks Daily]
posted by caddis (131 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Answer for those who don't want to read the pdf: There are great women chefs, but the people whose job it is to publicly anoint same include a very high proportion of sexists and perhaps even misogynists.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:36 PM on December 6, 2010 [17 favorites]


When they eat, they cheat.

But of course, women are nothing more than food-passionate cooks!
posted by mooselini at 12:36 PM on December 6, 2010


I will try to reduce snark to a minimum, but yes, the answer is institutionalized sexism.
posted by kalessin at 12:38 PM on December 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


I wish we'd get rid of the idea of "thinking with your heart" entirely.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:40 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Women's place is in the kitchen"... unless there's awards to be handed out.
posted by yeloson at 12:43 PM on December 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


When they eat, they cheat.

In fairness to Chef Ramsay, he seems to be saying that, in his travels, he is noticing fewer women cooking and more men cooking, not that women are incapable of being chefs. If anything, his shows have repeatedly shown that he thinks women are entirely capable of being great chefs.

Now, come ON, you DONKEYS, Jesus CHRIST, you're KILLING ME.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:43 PM on December 6, 2010 [10 favorites]


The question is a good one, but the piece itself doesn't contain a lot of new information and insight. I suspect there is an in-depth article (or hey, a book) waiting to be written about this subject, especially about the women fighting for recognition and change, that would be killer.

I'd like to see a lot more from the women in the trenches, their war stories and opinions, what they're doing to change the situation, because I don't think any woman chef stays in the business without having a hide of steel.
posted by emjaybee at 12:45 PM on December 6, 2010


Because a chef's position, rather than that of a cook, is a position of authority. This is a strict subset of the question of "why are women broadly underrepresented in positions of authority of any kind" and the answers are pretty much the same and just as ugly as they've always been.
posted by mhoye at 12:46 PM on December 6, 2010 [25 favorites]


The women are all pastry chefs, because they have more sense than men. You get to work in (relative) peace.
posted by fixedgear at 12:46 PM on December 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


From a purely anecdotal perspective, all the working experienced chefs I have personally met were kind of crazy aggressive domineering dicks, and men are generally better at that
posted by tehloki at 12:47 PM on December 6, 2010 [23 favorites]


There are great women chefs, but the people whose job it is to publicly anoint same include a very high proportion of sexists and perhaps even misogynists.

Perhaps including some of the women. There is a "I want to be the Only Girl in the Room" syndrome among some women who are high achievers in traditionally male-dominated fields. Including the high-end food world.

And that is exactly all I am going to say about that here, because this is not "Sidhedevil's House of Stories About Jerks What She Has Met."
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:48 PM on December 6, 2010 [16 favorites]


In addition to the institutionalized sexism already mentioned, remember that kitchen work can require more upper-body strength than you think - i.e. cast iron pans, cartons of produce, etc.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:48 PM on December 6, 2010


Yeah, it seems like a unsupported leap from "fewer women are successful than men" to "pervasive sexism." The one supporting statement is
No one doubts women’s abilities in the kitchen. They
certainly have skill and creativity. So what is the problem?
— which is begging the question.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:50 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


In addition to the institutionalized sexism already mentioned, remember that kitchen work can require more upper-body strength than you think - i.e. cast iron pans, cartons of produce, etc.

Women are far more highly represented among the folks who have to deal with this--sous-chefs, line chefs, and gardes mangers--than among the folks who never have to deal with this, i.e., executive chefs.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:51 PM on December 6, 2010 [21 favorites]


Yeah, it seems like a unsupported leap from "fewer women are successful than men" to "pervasive sexism."

I don't think that article makes the point well, but to anybody who has ever worked in the food industry the level of sexism pervading it is obvious. Including those who don't see that as a problem.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:52 PM on December 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


Yep, gonna have to nth the notion that working in a kitchen is one of the most sexist environments I've ever encountered. And I spent a year at a securities firm.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:52 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well the truth is that TV does not give a flying leap about cooking ability.
Does anyone know if Ramsay actually cook?

They want attitude and looks on TV. The rest can be scripted in.

Now awards and peer approval and all of that is another problem entirely. But it's not horribly shocking that cultural problems display themselves there as well.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:53 PM on December 6, 2010


[[ In addition to the institutionalized sexism already mentioned, remember that kitchen work can require more upper-body strength than you think]]

Women are far more highly represented among the folks who have to deal with this


Good point.

Still, it does impose a "barrier to entry" that favors men.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:53 PM on December 6, 2010


In addition to the institutionalized sexism already mentioned, remember that kitchen work can require more upper-body strength than you think - i.e. cast iron pans, cartons of produce, etc.

Joe, my wife was pretty buff and perfectly capable of loading her little Rubbermaid cart with cases of chicken and moving them from the walk-in to her work area. When we are talking about executive chefs, the kind who compete for Michelin starts, we are talking about leaders of brigades. They can still cook, but it's more like menu planning, recipe development and supervision.
posted by fixedgear at 12:55 PM on December 6, 2010


I'd be interested to see how this relates to equity, pay and actual careers. Are women finding themselves highly successful in restaurateuring and business, but not getting the critical acclaim of their male contemporaries? Or is this just a matter of respect and perception?
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:56 PM on December 6, 2010


The suggestion that women are weaker than men in a physical strength aspect is rather a hot button to me, and I think it's patently false.

Part of it is a body build thing, part of it socialization, and part of it simply false.

There is a far greater overlap in any statistical bell curve than there are outlyers. This holds for human physical strength (males vs. females) as well as any other comparator.

Additionally, physical strength seems to really develop in all humans according to the tests it is put to. Arguing this point is a real red herring to the topic at hand.

Anecdotally, also, both my sweetie and I work out. Her ancestral line is just built, apparently to get stronger and remain stronger than mine.
posted by kalessin at 1:00 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does anyone know if Ramsay actually cook?

Watch "The F Word" and you'll see him cook regularly. The show features him making simple dishes, and competing in dish "competitions" against celebrities.

Also, search YouTube for "Cookalong Live" to see clips like this one.
posted by zarq at 1:01 PM on December 6, 2010


Does anyone know if Ramsay actually cook?

When he took over as head chef of the Auberginem, it one the first Michilan star it had ever received, and then a second one. Ramsay's first restaurant, Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, got three stars. He's one of only four chefs in the UK to maintain three Michelin Stars.

He's a pretty good cook.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:03 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now, come ON, you DONKEYS, Jesus CHRIST, you're KILLING ME.

My favorite is the full volume shout of "It's fucking RAW!", with the relevant dish being flung back at whoever was unfortunate enough to pass it his way.

I have noticed though that if anything when he does his gameshow stuff he really favours female contestants and is far more likely to be nice to them.
posted by Artw at 1:05 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Still, it does impose a "barrier to entry" that favors men.

That might be part of explaining a larger number of men in for-pay kitchen work in general. (Though I agree that it is largely notional--in other jobs that require regular heavy lifting, like nursing home attendant, women are the vast majority of the workforce.)

But the disproportion is so dramatically higher among the executive chef ranks that it seems pretty clear that "women are considered less able to lift pro kitchen objects" isn't a factor.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:05 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


My favorite is the full volume shout of "It's fucking RAW!", with the relevant dish being flung back at whoever was unfortunate enough to pass it his way.

I especially like it when the food is a chicken and he glares at the person and says "You're going to kill someone."
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:08 PM on December 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


From a purely anecdotal perspective, all the working experienced chefs I have personally met were kind of crazy aggressive domineering dicks, and men are generally better at that
posted by tehloki


A local celebrity chef is often seen doing things like screaming at one of his workers, in the US on a work visa, "You just bought yourself a ticket back to France!" Because the guy overcooked one steak.

Chefs, especially in New York, also deal with real estate negotiations, and inspections, and permits. They sometimes have to muscle, whisper, bribe and threaten while dealing with entrenched male cultures.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:11 PM on December 6, 2010


But the disproportion is so dramatically higher among the executive chef ranks that it seems pretty clear that "women are considered less able to lift pro kitchen objects" isn't a factor.

Is that really an argument or is that just confirmation bias? Of course, it might be true, but don't you think it would make more sense to do experiments?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:11 PM on December 6, 2010


These men are fearless mavericks, the women—domesticated goddesses.

The article spend a lot of time discussing Food TV network stars (not chefs, but). I think this touches on the core of the problem. A man's role is to be a fearless leader, a woman's is to be a guardian of tradition. Compare Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, "heroes" all, to Nigella Lawson, Marcella Hazan or even Martha Stewart, "goddesses". It makes for high-ratings TV.

Who reinforces these gender roles? Viewers like you (and me). Susan Spicer and Alice Waters need not apply.

There's ingrained sexism in hospitality, sure, and that can make an apprentice's life miserable. However, there's a lot of social pressure stopping young girls from even thinking that they could aspire to running their own restaurant in the first place. That's one of the first thing that needs to change.
posted by bonehead at 1:20 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Still, it does impose a "barrier to entry" that favors men.

One more point on this, from experience : school cafeterias, at least in America, tend too be much more strongly weighted towards women, and the sort of cooking that they do involves lifting massive vats of boiled pasta or sauces. That job required more strength than cooking at the high-end restaurant where I waited tables.
posted by suckerpunch at 1:21 PM on December 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


I wrote: But the disproportion is so dramatically higher among the executive chef ranks that it seems pretty clear that "women are considered less able to lift pro kitchen objects" isn't a factor.

esprit de l'escalier wrote: Is that really an argument or is that just confirmation bias? Of course, it might be true, but don't you think it would make more sense to do experiments?

I was responding to a hypothesis (that the small proportion of women among executive chefs is connected to a real or perceived difficulty women have with lifting the heavier objects used in a professional kitchen) that was equally untested experimentally, so only had the data we have--that the underrepresentation of women is much higher among the people who work in a kitchen and who don't have to lift those objects--to offer in rebuttal.

It seems like a perfectly cromulent argument given that it's one hypothesis rebutting another, yes.

Also, the overrepresentation of women among nursing home PCAs, who have to lift humans regularly, suggests that there is probably something else going on here. But again, that's not a data-rich argument, because I don't have specific workplace ergonomics studies comparing the person-pounds per hour lifted in the average kitchen vs. the average nursing home.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:26 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


There are great women chefs, but the people whose job it is to publicly anoint same include a very high proportion of sexists and perhaps even misogynists.

Hey, that was gonna be my snark!

Merging two threads into one: Cat Cora on It Gets Better.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:26 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a barista. As such I can be creative, enter competitions, win acclaim and generally be passionate about the flavours I'm presenting and making my customers happy. I was going to be a chef, but in the end working 8 hrs straight through was a more attractive offer than split shifts. Of course things change and I'm not working in the roastery any more - now I'm at a club and work some of my hours as a cashier in the bistro with, you guessed it, split shifts. C'est la vie.

Anyways, I only mention this because maybe there is something in the hours that makes women who might consider cheffing look at other options. That said, I work in a kitchen where all the cooks are women and of the 6 qualified chefs, 2 are women. We are a pretty estrogen-heavy kitchen. Are we an oddity?

Either way, I'd certainly be looking a bit more closely at who is on the judging panel and what they base their decisions on.
posted by Raunchy 60s Humour at 1:30 PM on December 6, 2010


Here's a slightly older BBC documentary that mentions that Angela Hartnett was Ramsay's protege.

Watching Gordon Ramsay on UK TV is an entirely different experience than watching him on US TV. He actually seems like a human, and an ok one, whereas he's just a screaming caricature on all of the Fox shows.
posted by kevin is... at 1:32 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


And for the life of me I can't decide which one I prefer.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:33 PM on December 6, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm going to offer a theory as to why women are underrepresented among great chefs. Here goes:

A great chef cannot fear food. To be a great chef, one must be willing to taste literally anything edible, and able to analyze and consider it in a myriad of preparations and combinations. One must be adventurous and bold. There are no timid great chefs.

Women are taught by society, from an early age, to fear food. Our sexist, unrealistic, looks-obsessed culture demands that women be thin, thin, thin. This pressure, when internalized, leads to major problems such as body image disorders and eating disorders, and it also leads to a fear of foods that society has deemed bad and fattening.

And when a chef fears butter, that chef cannot be great.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:53 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am unsure if the topic is women as chefs or what makes a great chef, but addressing the first issue, why not survey the elite cooking schools, such as Culinary Institute and see what percentage of grads are women and what percentage of men. Then track where they get employed and note the quality of the restaurants in which they work. That at the very least would give some objective idea of what is taking place.
posted by Postroad at 1:55 PM on December 6, 2010


Ramsay used to have a series in the UK where he does restaurant makeovers that a saw a couple of eps of, and I concur w/ Kevin is... that he's got a totally different persona there: He was still quite rough around the edges with the chefs & cooks, but he could be quite pleasant to the customers & staff; and he seems to genuinely give a crap about trying to help them do better (and not to just 'make fancier stuff', to actually do better).
posted by lodurr at 1:56 PM on December 6, 2010


They lack male genitalia.
posted by Sal and Richard at 1:56 PM on December 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


I had a brief (three-week) encounter with the real restaurant world years back. I was an assistant. There was one head chef, a bunch of assistant/sous/I have no idea chefs.

Head Chef (M): Egotistical liar, horrifically sexist, regularly trapped his sous-chef in the cooler to encourage her to have sex with him, regularly engaged in verbal sexual harassment, sent me explicit, sexually harassing text messages throughout my tenure and even after I quit.

Sous-Chef (F): Bailed out of jail by Head Chef day before she started work, he used this against her in aforementioned cooler talks. Essentially engaged in same sexist, abusive language as other chefs, dehumanizing her own sex, etc etc, probably because if she was not one of the guys she'd be regarded as a bitch.

Pastry Chef (F): Strong-willed woman who did not like to participate in kitchen trash-talking and told Head Chef to quit with the abuse and sexual harassment. Regarded as a bitch, fired within a week.

Assistant Chef #1 (M): Genuinely nice guy. Everyone in the kitchen walked all over him.

Assistant Chef #2 (M): Spent duration trying to get into pants of anything with a vagina. Less sexually aggressive than Head Chef, made him more bearable to talk to. Upped the sexist talk when HC was around, as HC goaded him into the misogynistic discussions.

Assistant Chef #3 (M): Portrayed himself as a nice guy. Promised me job, etc after I quit, told me I was a good worker, etc, later learned job and whatnot were dependent on whether or not I'd have sex with him. FUN!


From that little sliver I perceived that if you were male you needed to be a sexist jerk, if you were female you either ran with the environment or got booted out, and at some point someone would base your promotion on whether you let them stick it in you. It's entirely possible my experience was a grotesque outlier, but from talking with other people in restaurant work it's expected that the back-of-the-house is going to be the worst sort of boys' club.
posted by schroedinger at 1:58 PM on December 6, 2010 [9 favorites]


And when a chef fears butter, that chef cannot be great.

So your thesis is not that it is institutionalized sexism, as has been repeatedly asserted -- and backed up -- in this thread, but instead that all women, everywhere, are trained from childhood to fear butter, and they are therefore generally worse chefs?

It's hard to know what to do with theories that are based on people pontificating, without facts, and making use of broad stereotypes about gender. I think I'll just ignore this one.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:02 PM on December 6, 2010 [10 favorites]


I like Postroad's suggestion, but I don't think it would solve anything: Most of the rationalizations for the disparity that I'm seeing in this thread wouldn't be contravened by finding that there's an equal number of graduates, or even that they got equal marks. Women 'are afraid of food,' 'don't like split shifts,' 'don't have upper body strength,' 'aren't aggressive enough' -- all those could still be true while women graduated in equal or greater numbers and with equal or higher marks.

If you're an honest observer who's worked in professional kitchens, more than likely you've seen culinary sexism first hand. It's rampant.

Cooking is macho. As Alton Brown likes to point out, "Chef" isn't a level of achievement, it's a job title. It's the guy in charge. And the means by which one gets investors, good reviews, referrals, etc. are through wealthy people or people who aspire to being wealthy. It's a fundamentally conservative milieu, in certain ways.

Stuff like the relative roles of nurturer/goddess versus commander/hero is a reflection of wider sexism, but it plays into the ingrained sexism of the field.
posted by lodurr at 2:04 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


A great chef cannot fear food. To be a great chef, one must be willing to taste literally anything edible, and able to analyze and consider it in a myriad of preparations and combinations. One must be adventurous and bold. There are no timid great chefs.

You could say the same about any adventurous eaters though, and it's not as if women tend to be far less represented among foodies to the extent that it would create the kind of discrepancy shown in the male/female executive chef ratio. I don't have any experience in the restaurant industry, but there's almost never a pure meritocracy involved with working your way up in any industry, so I would think systematic advantages and disadvantages within that system would play a larger role than some invisible socialized fear of food.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:10 PM on December 6, 2010


Also: women are taught to fear food?

Seriously?

And yet, we traditionally assign the role of cooking food to women -- and of upholding food traditions to women? And we do this because...they're so scared of the food that they won't change the recipies, maybe.

(I think I just figured out one of the reasons my wife likes Ace of Cakes and Cake Wars so much: A lot more women calling shots.)
posted by lodurr at 2:11 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, Astro Zombie, you misunderstood me. The problem is institutionalized sexism. It's the same institutionalized sexism that teaches women that they need to have cosmetic surgery and go on crash diets in order to be attractive to men, and that that is the highest goal to which they can aspire. That's obviously false, but do you deny that the phenomenon exists? It's why eating disorders are more prevalent in women than in men.

This same institutionalized--and internalized--sexism is what puts an additional barrier in the way of women who, given equal support and opportunity, would become great chefs, but because society hasn't allowed them to enjoy and experiment with their food, they can't do it. It's a terrible and hurtful thing, and one that's in no way inevitable.

This is all, of course, just my pontificating without facts; I admit that. And I apologize if I didn't make myself clear. But I think we're on the same side here.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:11 PM on December 6, 2010


This much talk of the food network and their... personalities, and no link to foodnetworkhumor?
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:16 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's the same institutionalized sexism that teaches women that they need to have cosmetic surgery and go on crash diets in order to be attractive to men

You realize that not all women are like this?

I say it's spinach, and I say to hell with it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:18 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Faint of Butt, it frankly seems like a pretty far-fetched explanation when there's a much simpler, more plausible, and empirically supportable explanation at hand: The restaurant and hospitality industries, not to mention the critical apparatus that defines who's a "great" chef, are intensely sexist.
posted by lodurr at 2:21 PM on December 6, 2010


Watching Ramsey on the BBC version of the Kitchen Nightmares show made me think he is some sort of management genius. A manager's job is simply to get the best work possible from each employee. Each person needs to handled in a different way, from threatening to begging. On the BBC version of the show he always seems to be able to handle people in such a way as to produce good work from them.

Or it could all be editing.

Also there is institutionalized sexisim in every industry I've worked in. People in positions of power are men, and they promote the people they identify with.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:28 PM on December 6, 2010


It's the same institutionalized sexism that teaches women that they need to have cosmetic surgery and go on crash diets in order to be attractive to men

You realize that not all women are like this?


Obviously he does. This is a post about differences in gender representation in a profession, there will be generalizations and wild theories, that is okay.

Even if the correct answer boils down to, "because men are sexist and they won't hire/follow a woman in a leadership role," we would still be left with, "but you realize all men aren't like this?"

Yes, obviously. I don't think it is that far out to think that a culture that urges woman to stay away from fattening food might make some of them want to shy away from an industry focused on producing such food.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:29 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


And when a chef fears butter, that chef cannot be great.

I don't know about "fearing" butter (wut?!), but I know some fucking great chefs who don't use butter. Here's one.

Regardless of the butter snark, that was a pretty ridiculous comment in general. But you probably knew that.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:31 PM on December 6, 2010


My tattoo artist (a woman) worked for a while as a sushi apprentice. It was a struggle for her to even find a sushi chef that would take a female apprentice, and even then she never got to progress in what she learned/was allowed to do. As I understand it, her boss/mentor even got heat from other sushi chefs for taking a female apprentice, which is part of the reason he never let her actually do anything. Eventually she gave up and became a tattoo artist. I'm thankful for that, because she's awesome, but it sucks that sushi chefs stand out as extra-sexist within an already sexist industry.
posted by misskaz at 2:31 PM on December 6, 2010


And a woman can't be President because she could start a nuclear war if she had PMS.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:31 PM on December 6, 2010


Yeah there is always a million excuses, in programming its because women suck at math, never mind the fact I can barely add. The truth is men like the boys club.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:34 PM on December 6, 2010


I'm going to guess that a big proportion of why women aren't well-represented in positions where you have to be granted a favour goes back to the subject of the book Women Don't Ask.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:42 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have never understood and actually find the sexism of the professional cooking world hilarious. I've experienced it personally, in my very brief experience of cooking in a decidedly not-high end restaurant.

I find it hilarious because all over the world, in the vast majority of cultures, women are responsible for food preparation. They have been the bakers and brewers and roasters since we discovered fire, not to mention choppers, grinders and heavy-lifters. Sure, in the middle ages and early modern period they would never have been the head cook in a big kitchen; they also weren't allowed to play themselves on stage. They still did the vast majority of cooking in most houses; the head cook in big houses was overseen by the woman of the house.

Women don't get ahead in professional cooking for all the reasons stated above -- men being the ones in power, liking people like themselves, issues with women in authority - and the fact that the sexism in professional cooking isn't just implicit but is explicit and in your face. Add to that the fact that high-end cooking is pretty incompatible with having a life or raising children; women fair poorly in most competitive professions because they are expected to put in more time with children and housework.

But it's still hilarious, in a dark way. Especially how I was set to making pies in the restaurant I worked in - I was 18, just out of high school and basically untrained. But none of the trained men from prep cook through to the master chef could make a decent pie crust. I had learned from my mom, who learned from her mom, who learned from her mom...
posted by jb at 2:43 PM on December 6, 2010 [11 favorites]



(I think I just figured out one of the reasons my wife likes Ace of Cakes and Cake Wars so much: A lot more women calling shots.)


And yet, Ace of Cakes -- the first big cake show -- is headed by a guy, and a pretty macho guy at that, and I doubt whether cake shows would suddenly have exploded like they did if Ace of Cakes was about a cake shop run by a woman.
posted by Jeanne at 2:49 PM on December 6, 2010


In engineering, it's because women are too right-brained to be analytical, or something. The fact that I scored higher on my SAT verbal than on my SAT math was held up as the perfect example of this.

Yeah, it's awesome to be the shining example of why women suck. Thanks, engineering professor that I sort of looked up to!
posted by muddgirl at 2:51 PM on December 6, 2010


When we are talking about executive chefs, the kind who compete for Michelin starts, we are talking about leaders of brigades. They can still cook, but it's more like menu planning, recipe development and supervision.

Yes, but those leaders still had to put up with all the lower-level bullshit for years before that reached that level.

I don't think it's entirely a "women don't have the physical capacity" thing, or a sexism thing. When I worked in kitchens, there were more men than women workers because women tended to say, "Screw this monotonous, high-pressure, strenuous, underpaid bullshit" a lot faster than men did. This was my experience in factories as well.

When you can make $30 per hour as a server, it's tough to put stay back in the kitchen making $12, no matter what your long-term goal is.

So while I'm sure that sexism is a part of this, I'd also submit that women's tolerance for bullshit also plays a role.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:52 PM on December 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd also submit that women's tolerance for bullshit also plays a role.

Where do you think this comes from? Am I born with a lower tolerance for bullshit or is it thrust upon me?
posted by muddgirl at 2:53 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only comment of any value I can add to this discussion is a warning that you should avoid Ramsay's pub, The Narrow, in London's Limehouse.

Dreadful service, dreadful food.

The waiters ignored me and my dining companion while he promptly attended to others, didn't offer us specials that were available to everyone else, turned the back of his head to us while we placed our order, refused to make eye contact.

Then the food came. Pre-packaged supermarket would have been better. This was just hot, flavourless junk, salted.

I didn't want to be a cock so we just had a quite word with the manager, who offered us free drinks and coffee to compensate -- but we just wanted to be out of there ASAP.

So, even a "great chef" is capable of serving up inedible crap by incompetent waiters -- just like those restaurateurs Ramsay tries to help on his Kitchen Nightmares programme.

Avoid.
posted by Lleyam at 2:54 PM on December 6, 2010


Women chefs are too afraid to be great? Better off where they are? Physically incapable (seriously? in the KITCHEN?)? Don't have the right attitude? Bring the sexism on themselves? This thread is like sexism 101.
posted by Danila at 2:54 PM on December 6, 2010 [11 favorites]


Ok everybody just stop discussing and quote, "It's because of the patriarchy." over and over, okay?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:57 PM on December 6, 2010


Also funny: I just went to Delia Online to look up the times and temperatures for roast beef. Delia Smith must be a drag queen, because she can cook (and explains cooking very clearly, which is her true genious).
posted by jb at 2:58 PM on December 6, 2010




Women chefs are too afraid to be great? Better off where they are? Physically incapable (seriously? in the KITCHEN?)? Don't have the right attitude? Bring the sexism on themselves? This thread is like sexism 101.


Start any thread with: "Why Are There No Great Women _____" and you'll get those. It's very prevalent in our culture.
The "well I think it's great that women make more money, but everyone knows men were traditionally the hunters and women the gatherers" shit is so outdated and wrong.

Some ideas proliferate despite being disproven again, and again, and again, and again.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:03 PM on December 6, 2010


By "make more money" I mean "participate in the workforce."
Penny for an edit button?
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:03 PM on December 6, 2010


Oh I see. Women aren't great chefs because they stayed in their caves and cooked meat and berries. Men had to go out on the plains and live off rations, so they became more inventive and shit. By Lamarkian rules of evolution, they passed these traits on to their children, and so on.
posted by muddgirl at 3:09 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


However, there's a lot of social pressure stopping young girls

Anecdotal-ish-ly true. The restaurants I worked at as a lad were closer to kitchen nightmares than Michelin stars, but each of them had the same hiring process - young men in the back, young women in the front, the most attractive young women being hostess.

Even where sexism wasn't even lightly tolerated (pizza joint staffed mostly by older butch lesbians), it was rare to see a male server or a female cook.

Watch the ratio next time your in a food joint. If you are encouraged not to even learn the rules, it's no wonder you don't 'win'.


Faint of Butt: society hasn't allowed them to enjoy and experiment with their food, they can't do it... But I think we're on the same side here.

Cooking and eating aren't the same thing. You're blaming the issue on the effect sexism has on women - the sexism got to them and so they didn't learn to love food like we men did. Which is contrary to my experience - from the EZ-Bake oven to Barbie kitchens to home Etc classes girls are, lets say, somewhat encouraged to be around food and cooking.

Your 'bad butter' theory is just so odd that it's jarring.
posted by anti social order at 3:10 PM on December 6, 2010


Don't get me started on Delia. She convinced my bf to cook me goat's cheese grilled on an English _crumpet_. It was a really romantic first dinner (especially because he was trying out the weird Delia recipe because I was his first vegetarian) but the menu was not the winner.
posted by Lleyam at 3:10 PM on December 6, 2010


Start any thread with: "Why Are There No Great Women _____" and you'll get those. It's very prevalent in our culture.


Agree, and I guess that's why it's a trick question (which is the point of the article). There are great women chefs, we just don't want to call them that.

I'll just comment on the article, which is arguing that there already are women in a position of leadership (running their own kitchens, starting multiple successful restaurants, creating and innovating with food) but they are not crossing the threshold to be called "great chefs". The article names a bunch of women who, if they were men, would be called "great chefs" (and the article names male counterparts).

This article doesn't really seem to be about what happens to women before they become chefs, but why so few are eligible for "great chef" status AFTER they get there. So all the comments about aptitude, attitude, physical ability, acumen, personality...all of that is irrelevant when we're talking about women who have already dealt with the nonsense and achieved some significant measure of success. Yet they do not receive the awards (their restaurants may HOST the ceremonies), they will not be in the magazines (unless it is a special "Women Chefs" issue), and they will not be in the history books.

It's all in the narratives we build and the meanings we assign to the same act depending on the sex of the person who performed it. I thought the "blind chef test" was interesting, where they had a top female and a top male chef create similar dishes and experts thought they could tell the gender of the chef who created the dish. They couldn't, but they still tried to assign gender attributes to the dishes and the approaches of the chefs (which they couldn't possibly know).
posted by Danila at 3:11 PM on December 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


Delia Smith is a cook, not a chef.
posted by elsietheeel at 3:12 PM on December 6, 2010


In addition to the institutionalized sexism already mentioned, remember that kitchen work can require more upper-body strength than you think - i.e. cast iron pans, cartons of produce, etc.

Au contraire! It is the exact opposite!

The decline of women in French cooking coincided with the decline of good, honest French food in favor of haute cuisine. French cooking used to be dominated by women, or the Meres, as they are known. One of the most famous chefs in Lyon was the Mere Brazier. Her restaurant is still there. But now it is run by a team of men.

Why did the Meres die out? They worked too hard.
posted by vacapinta at 3:16 PM on December 6, 2010


Thanks for trying to bring us back on track, Danila. I stopped snarking and actually RTFA:
This conundrum reminded me of something I’d read in an undergraduate art history class, Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” Her article was a watershed not just because it posed such a loaded question—a rhetorical device, as it turns out—but also because by posing that question Nochlin forced academics and feminists to challenge their own practices. She argued that the query is inherently flawed because it presupposes a deficiency in women and thereby perpetuates the difficulties of female painters and sculptors in achieving the status of artist, let alone great artist.
I totally fell for it, too.
posted by muddgirl at 3:19 PM on December 6, 2010


jb, that's an interesting point - cookbooks are far more likely to be written by women (relative to their representation amongst executive chefs). In Australia, the top cookbooks are by Stephanie Alexander, Maggie Beer, Jill Dupleix, Donna Hay etc, rather than by Bill Grainger or others.

Probably the market for cookbooks is mostly women which would explain it.

My explanation for the difference in representation amongst the top flight of chefs is

A. all the sexism already mentioned, but also

B. my social darwinist belief (ooh, dangerous ground here) that women are better generalists and more competent across a range of areas, (vast sweeping generalisation here, both genders are on distribution curves that overlap greatly) but will tend to lack the driven mania to exceed at the top tail end of the distribution curve, which is where hats start getting awarded. Of course, they also tend to lack the other end of the tail, which is where complete failures and health department warnings get awarded.
posted by wilful at 3:26 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


If women are better generalists then shouldn't then actually be better chefs than cooks? Cooks require a single skills-set, while chefs must be business-owners, innovators, artists, and managers all at the same time.

In other words, did you read the post?
posted by muddgirl at 3:29 PM on December 6, 2010


Here's another great part:
Lidia Bastianich is a triple (non)threat—restaurant owner, cookbook author, and television personality. She owns four Italian restaurants. Manhattan’s Felidia, which she originally opened in 1981 with her ex-husband and now operates alone, is the one most frequently associated with her. I’m not sure anyone realizes she has three others.... Aside from Felidia, Lidia’s better-known restaurantrole is that of mother and, to some extent, backer. Her son, Joseph (aka Joe) Bastianich is the prolific business partner of Mario Batali. Together the two men have built an empire that encompasses multiple eateries across the country, cookbooks, cookware, an Italian wine store, a travel show, and, on the horizon, an upscale Italian market. What people may not realize is that Lidia is also a partner in at least one of these ventures, Del Posto, a bastion of haute Italian cuisine.

While Joe gets all the credit for the business success of the Bastianich family, Lidia is identified as the Italian equivalent of Julia Child.
Emphasis mine.
posted by muddgirl at 3:32 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


What if we had Best Female Chef awards and Best Male Chef awards like we have with the Oscars? Not seriously suggesting that, I just always found it slightly weird that acting would be segregated like that. It takes just as much skill to play a character of either gender. The only advantage is it is easier to play a character of your own gender.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:42 PM on December 6, 2010


muddgirl, in reply, did you read my post?

will tend to lack the driven mania to exceed at the top tail end of the distribution curve, which is where hats start getting awarded.
posted by wilful at 3:45 PM on December 6, 2010


muddgirl, in reply, did you read my post?

When you can make $30 per hour as a server, it's tough to put stay back in the kitchen making $12, no matter what your long-term goal is.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:54 PM on December 6, 2010


What have they got against Julia Child? Terrific chef, loved butter!
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:54 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


B. my social darwinist belief (ooh, dangerous ground here) that women are better generalists and more competent across a range of areas, (vast sweeping generalisation here, both genders are on distribution curves that overlap greatly) but will tend to lack the driven mania to exceed at the top tail end of the distribution curve, which is where hats start getting awarded. Of course, they also tend to lack the other end of the tail, which is where complete failures and health department warnings get awarded.

I know you put a lot of qualifiers in this statement and all, but it still confuses me. Can you explain better what you mean? Because it looks like "women lack ambition", and sort of hoping there's more to it than that.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:58 PM on December 6, 2010


This wasn't the argument I wanted to have tonight, so I'll try to make my defense brief.

I agree with almost all of the theories put forth in this thread, and agree that they may well carry much more weight in the real world than my own theory. It's patently obvious that restaurant kitchen culture is toxic and sexist, and that this drives women out of the industry. It's obvious as well that the highest echelons of cuisine are an old boys' club, reluctant to award top honors to women. The only really questionable theory I've seen in here is the upper body strength thing.

But at the same time, I maintain that society's taught attitudes towards food do impact women to their detriment, and that fear is the driving emotion: fear of being fat, fear of being unattractive. These are learned fears, and of course not all women suffer from them, but many do. Society encourages women to provide food, to prepare it and serve it, but not to enjoy it.

Of course women can become great chefs. Some do, and more should. But you can't be a great chef without a deep, abiding love for food of all natures, and patriarchal, sexist society doesn't want women to love food in that way. It teaches them to fear it instead.

Once again, I apologize to anyone I've offended. I certainly never meant to. But I saw an opportunity to wax rhapsodic about food, one of my favorite topics, and to deliver a sweeping rhetorical attack on cruel, oppressive society at the same time, and I took it. Can you blame me? This is MetaFilter, after all.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:08 PM on December 6, 2010


well Marisa, recalling all my qualifiers, I guess you could paraphrase it as that. Ambition wouldn't be the word however, monomania would be my choice. Women (as well as the overwhelming majority of men) have too much common sense to fixate on a single idea (getting three hats) and would rather have a more balanced and pleasant and successful restaurant.
posted by wilful at 4:11 PM on December 6, 2010


What have they got against Julia Child? Terrific chef, loved butter!

And yes, I was thinking of Julia Child. She was a great chef, without doubt. She was also determined to fight against the prevailing sexist pressure, both in the restaurant industry in particular and in the world at large, and she did so magnificently. And she was not, by any stretch of the imagination, afraid of butter.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:11 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


She gets points in my book for telling that parasitic blogger to fuck off.
posted by Artw at 4:12 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Faint of Butt, in response to your idea, I can see the internally consistent logic, and could see how you'd get to that idea, but I don't buy it, I don't believe that the actual condition of women being socialised to fear food is true.
posted by wilful at 4:12 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's really galling is that rats still haven't been fully accepted as contributors to the culinary world, and are to this day forced to spend their carreers under toques, pulling locks of hair while the chef gets all the credit.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 4:14 PM on December 6, 2010 [7 favorites]


muddgirl, in reply, did you read my post?

When you can make $30 per hour as a server, it's tough to put stay back in the kitchen making $12, no matter what your long-term goal is.


I did read that, actually. How does it answer my question: Is my "higher toleration for bullshit" inborn or learned? If learned, is that not a function of sexism?

Anyway, it still fails to address the topic linked to in the OP (Why do successful women chefs fail to be labeled "great"?) and continues to fall for the rhetorical derail intentionally presented by the title.
posted by muddgirl at 4:17 PM on December 6, 2010


wilful and coolguymichael, you seem to be making the same point: that women lack some innate measure of "drive" that is necessary in order to reach the top of this particular career field. But this doesn't account for the women who are the focus of the article: chefs who are already doing the same things male chefs are doing. Whatever drive or stamina they need to succeed, they've already demonstrated it. They own the restaurants, run the magazines (interesting that the top food magazines are run by women), have achieved star status in a number of ways. Whatever it is a master chef is supposed to be able to do, they are able to do it.

But woman = cook, and man = chef. It's a matter of the symbolic, not the actual.

"So, if a male chef serves a plate of Spaghetti Bolognese, it is lauded for its “in-your-face,” “rich,” “intense,” “bold” flavors, while a woman’s plateful of the same indicates “homey,” “comforting” fare, “prepared with love.” The former becomes an aggressive statement, a declaration of ego, while the latter is a testament to home cooking."

Same dish, same actual ability and skill, but woman = cook, and man = chef. The author makes the point that in the US, a being a "great chef" has "historically been measured more by business acumen, celebrity, and marketability". Yet there are a number of female chefs who have succeeded in all of these areas.

I am forced to conclude that it is the "glass ceiling", that last invisible barrier once you have gotten past stamina, and personality, and experience, and "drive".
posted by Danila at 4:18 PM on December 6, 2010


will tend to lack the driven mania to exceed at the top tail end of the distribution curve, which is where hats start getting awarded.

So what you're saying is... that women are more generalist than men, but men are more exceptionally generalist than women?

And I repeat myself:
it still fails to address the topic linked to in the OP (Why do successful women chefs fail to be labeled "great"?) and continues to fall for the rhetorical derail intentionally presented by the title.
posted by muddgirl at 4:20 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]



Faint of Butt, in response to your idea, I can see the internally consistent logic, and could see how you'd get to that idea, but I don't buy it, I don't believe that the actual condition of women being socialised to fear food is true.


In a society with so much bulimia, anorexia, and obesity I think it is pretty fair to suggest there is just about every kind of fucked up feeling about food represented in our population.

I mean, would you really accept the concept of bulimia if you hadn't already seen the evidence of it? It's fucking ridiculous when you think about it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:39 PM on December 6, 2010


So what you're saying is...

Err, no.
posted by wilful at 4:49 PM on December 6, 2010


Then I don't get your point. To me, being a cook requires a much narrower skill set than being a chef. Therefore, according to your principles of Social Darwinism, men should be excellent cooks, but lack the ability to generalize that excellence to the other skills required to be a chef. Clearly this isn't the case. Where is my logic going wrong?
posted by muddgirl at 4:53 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


The top echelons of the restaurant are not quite as sexist as one would think for the lack of female chefs. I've worked in the industry for more than 20 years now and have run across many, many women in kitchen roles. It's true, very few chefs in my experience have been female, but many of the business owners were. Women have been taking larger and larger roles in the industry, but we've not yet reached the tipping point. Only a few decades ago the thought of a female chef would have been laughable, now it's slowly becoming accepted, if not even common in some markets. Restaurants are built on traditions, some of them negative, and it takes time for traditions to change in the face of the modern world.
posted by elwoodwiles at 5:04 PM on December 6, 2010



B. my social darwinist belief (ooh, dangerous ground here) that women are better generalists and more competent across a range of areas, (vast sweeping generalisation here, both genders are on distribution curves that overlap greatly) but will tend to lack the driven mania to exceed at the top tail end of the distribution curve, which is where hats start getting awarded. Of course, they also tend to lack the other end of the tail, which is where complete failures and health department warnings get awarded.


I think what is being pointed out here is that the driven mania to be the top at any profession is more common in men. In other words, focusing on being the best chef possible but not having any other hobbies or anything.

...and at the same time there are more men dying drunk in the gutter attempting and accomplishing nothing.

I've heard about that type of curve where more men can be found at each end of the curve and more women in the middle on a lot of topics, no idea if it is scientifically valid.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:08 PM on December 6, 2010


For a metafilter that is typically pro-science, this thread and that essay almost entirely comprise anecdotes and unsupported conclusions.

No one thinks that there is no sexism in the world. However, it's fair to question to what degree the disparity in numbers of men and women at the top levels of any field is the result of sexism.

To do that, one needs to do experiments. For example, one would have food critics do blind tastings at top restaurants, which might be better evidence about the quality of their cooking. Maybe networking matters, so you find a way to measure that, and you collect statistics. Then, you build a predictive model (of restaurant rating) using a subset of your data and you test the model on the rest of your data. That's called "cross-validation" and it is an unbiased way to measure the quality of your model.

In the absence of data, how can anyone justify making outrageous conclusions about sexism?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 5:09 PM on December 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


what furiousxgeorge said.
posted by wilful at 5:10 PM on December 6, 2010


I think what is being pointed out here is that the driven mania to be the top at any profession is more common in men.

So according to Social Darwinism there is no job where we'll find more women than men, because they lack the drive required? But on the other hand there are fewer poor or drunk women?

Clearly this is not true in the real world, so there is a flaw somewhere in this logic.
posted by muddgirl at 5:13 PM on December 6, 2010


But on the other hand there are fewer poor or drunk women?

Clearly this is not true in the real world, so there is a flaw somewhere in this logic.


I *think* there actually are more men alcoholics than women alcoholics. I am googling now but not finding anything worth linking yet.
posted by ian1977 at 5:22 PM on December 6, 2010


Found something anyway....

Close to three times the amount of US males (9.8 million) abuse, or are dependent upon, alcohol than females (3.9 million).

from Treatment Centers.net
posted by ian1977 at 5:25 PM on December 6, 2010


The whole "$30 as a server or $12 as a something else" question seems to me to miss a major point: Why are they shunting physically attractive women to the front of the house?

Yes, we all know the answer to that question. The answer to that question is a problem.
posted by lodurr at 5:37 PM on December 6, 2010


When I worked in kitchens, there were more men than women workers because women tended to say, "Screw this monotonous, high-pressure, strenuous, underpaid bullshit" a lot faster than men did. This was my experience in factories as well.

Well, yeah. Because it's a very different thing to put up with high-pressure, strenuous bullshit if you know-- can see the evidence in front of you, in the form of your boss-- that the bullshit, if you can tough it out, will eventually lead you somewhere. Nobody wants to stick around to endure the bullshit when the end result is only more bullshit.
posted by jokeefe at 5:37 PM on December 6, 2010


Re. Lidia and Joe Bastianich, as someone who knows of her & her son only through her TV show and not through food or hospitality press, I have always had the impression of her as a strong, driven woman -- come from the old country as a tween, home taking care of the family while mama worked, then working her way up to own a bunch of restaurants.

It has always struck me, though, that she never calls herself a Chef. I once saw her identified as "Executive Chef at such-and-such", but I don't remember it being from her.
posted by lodurr at 5:40 PM on December 6, 2010


To do that, one needs to do experiments. ...

Which no one seems to be doing. So here we are.
posted by lodurr at 5:41 PM on December 6, 2010


So according to Social Darwinism there is no job where we'll find more women than men, because they lack the drive required? But on the other hand there are fewer poor or drunk women?


You will find more poor women, but ridiculously more men in prison. I think the poor women has more to do with single motherhood than work ethic or intelligence or anything else. Take that out of the picture and it is my belief women would outperform men just like they do in college graduation.

Clearly this is not true in the real world, so there is a flaw somewhere in this logic.

Out of curiosity, what professions DO women dominate at the top? I would assume nursing, I'm not sure where else I would guess.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:01 PM on December 6, 2010


Out of curiosity, what professions DO women dominate at the top? I would assume nursing, I'm not sure where else I would guess.

Really? There are tons of "traditionally" female careers - full-time parenting is a classic example. Nursing, of course, but also biology and the "soft sciences". Teaching. Of course we can come up with some handwavy "Darwinist" reason why this is the case, or we can think hard about why women aren't seen as "great" in some traditionally-masculine fields no matter what they accomplish.
posted by muddgirl at 6:15 PM on December 6, 2010


It's just that when I think of the top of the teaching totem poll I think of college professors, not the best of elementary to high school. And childcare? You might as well say the top chef honors don't matter because women dominate in home cooking and bake sales.

I would extend that to healthcare too, why settle for being the best nurses when the most talented women should be among the top doctors too if we want talent and ability to be accurately reflected?

It goes back to what I was saying earlier about acting, why do we have best actor and best actress when it is just hiding the fact that institutionally there are more, better star roles available for men when there is no non-institutional sexism reason for that to be the case?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:22 PM on December 6, 2010


I have no data at all to back this up, only anecdata and the experience of living in our grossly sexist society for 40 years. Still, here's my theory:

Last year, I made a comment about blind auditions: the chances that a woman would be hired by any of the world's top orchestras went up 300% when the people doing the hiring could only hear the music, not see the musician.

Michelin (and anyone on the high end of the foodie world) knows if a given chef at a given restaurant is male or female. I wonder what would happen if food critics in chi-chi restaurants thought they were reviewing dishes prepared by men, but instead were being prepared by women. I strongly believe we'd find more stars awarded to more women chefs.

I really wish someone would find a way to do a study like this.
posted by tzikeh at 6:29 PM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's just that when I think of the top of the teaching totem poll I think of college professors, not the best of elementary to high school.

Sorry, the "top" college professors don't teach.

And childcare? You might as well say the top chef honors don't matter because women dominate in home cooking and bake sales.

Quite a mischaracterization of my argument, I assure you. I believe it's quite the opposite. Women have traditionally dominated in "feminine" tasks because they have been barred from all others.

I would extend that to healthcare too, why settle for being the best nurses when the most talented women should be among the top doctors too if we want talent and ability to be accurately reflected?

Why indeed? I would bet that top female doctors have the same problems as top female chefs - their successes and qualifications simply aren't considered to be "good enough."

It goes back to what I was saying earlier about acting, why do we have best actor and best actress when it is just hiding the fact that institutionally there are more, better star roles available for men when there is no non-institutional sexism reason for that to be the case?

I think we're arguing past each other. I quite agree with this statement.
posted by muddgirl at 6:41 PM on December 6, 2010


Yeah I think we are in agreement just expressing it differently
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:43 PM on December 6, 2010


I was mostly responding to the quite fallacious idea that women don't excel at anything. Of course it's pointless because any sexist worth their salt will point out that men don't want to do those tasks, or something. Who'd want to be an RN when they could be a doctor? Who'd want to be a teacher when they could be a principal? Who'd want to be an executive assistant when they could be a junior executive?
posted by muddgirl at 6:49 PM on December 6, 2010


Yeah, there was no suggestion that women don't excel at anything, just that on a curve men in general tend to dominate the extreme tops and the bottom. This means that when you really look at it a woman is probably more likely to excel at every level other than the very top, which makes sense when you look at the graduation rates.

That is a well known phenomena in standardized testing, I was only bringing it up to illustrate what wilful was trying to say, not to argue it myself. There are about a million reasons why standardized testing can't be used to predict comparative success between the genders in the real world.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:58 PM on December 6, 2010


In addition, I think you'll find that the words I used were negative, rather than positive. I quite consciously chose "exceed" over "excel" and "monomania", and "driven mania". None of these things are good.
posted by wilful at 7:06 PM on December 6, 2010


Yes, Michelin stars are not awarded on any objective measure. There is no chefometer. Who creates the standards by with food is judged, who does the judging? Who sets the current trends in cuisine, cuz let's face it Michelin doesn't have an immutable set of standards they apply. They are also biased towards the type of cuisine that men traditionally dominate, in many ways the are the the very definition of the old guard protectors of the status quo.

There are a few problems, and I think these are the same problems most fields face.

Men are more likely to reach the "pinnacle" and reach eligibility for stars, I would argue they simply fail to be promoted or move up the ranks because they don't achieve the same sort of visibility with chefs that have already reached the pinnacle. They are simply never members of the club.

Male chefs set the prevailing fashions in cuisine, innovations are much more likely to be accepted when introduced by top chefs, who all happen to be male.

They also face the self perpetuating notion that there are no great female chefs. So by definition anything they do must be second rate.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:24 PM on December 6, 2010


By promoted by top chefs,I don't just mean job promotion. I mean advocated for, acknowledged and mentored.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:32 PM on December 6, 2010


I was right with that article until the started in on the women can't do the heavy lifting. I don't look all buff and I regularly lift 60 pound boxes, sometime all day for days on end, long after most of my male counterparts have gone back to their desks. Sorry, man, but I have never had a problem lifting any heavy thing in the kitchen, it's the ass-slapping and being left out on purpose thing that bothers me. And what else is I don't have to choose between being feminine and being able to lift stuff. The whole smokin' hot vixen vs. butch dyke dichotomy bothers me. Why can't I just be a person and not a sexualized person? Guys get to be that, I want it, too.

In my current job at a multi-location library, there are only two guys working there and they are both the head of their library. Yes, you can find sexism in traditionally female professions, too.
posted by Foam Pants at 7:39 PM on December 6, 2010


I remember that bit in Kitchen Confidential where Tony gleefully recounts how putting up porn images clipped from magazines over another cook's station, male or female, was all just harmless "boys will be boys" type of stuff. And how one cook telling another one he'd cut open his throat and fuck the bloody orifice was just their way of letting off steam.

And I like Tony Bourdain but yeah, if I was a woman why would I want to bother with these morally stunted jerk-offs?
posted by bardic at 7:50 PM on December 6, 2010


Yep, i was thinking of bordain, every time he gets nostalgic on his show he likes to talk about hanging out all night with Eric Ripert ( one of the first recipients of Michelin stars in the USA in 2006) and the rest of the boys. That's how business gets done, in bars, hangin with your bros.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:56 PM on December 6, 2010


The suggestion that women are weaker than men in a physical strength aspect is rather a hot button to me, and I think it's patently false.

Part of it is a body build thing, part of it socialization, and part of it simply false.

There is a far greater overlap in any statistical bell curve than there are outlyers. This holds for human physical strength (males vs. females) as well as any other comparator.


Except it doesn't, actually, hold for male vs. female human physical strength. Look at these charts and tell me again that there's greater overlap between men and women than there are outliers. There's very little overlap at all in these charts. Hell, the amounts men can lift aren't even on the women's chart -- not until you're comparing men with women twice their size, that is. The disparity isn't quite as extreme in the squat, but it's still there.

I'll be the first to agree that day-to-day lifting is well within the ability of the vast majority of women, and the idea that women can't hack it in a kitchen is hilarious... but pound for pound, men are much stronger than women are. That's just a fact, and we do ourselves no favors by refusing to admit it.
posted by vorfeed at 8:16 PM on December 6, 2010


It couldn't possibly be that cooking has largely been considered "women's work" and that the more ambitious women would want to prevail in nontraditional roles.
I don't know about the Europe but it has only been 20, perhaps 30 years depending on what part of the US you live in that they have been paying attention to anything this side of Ketchup. Those that award the stars are more concerned with maintaining the status quo. What I think you will find is that there are no poor people among the Michelin Men.
My wife sucks at cooking, I suck at lawyering for example.

as has been repeatedly asserted -- and backed up -
No, citing your popularity doesn't count. Appealing to this particular Agora doesn't either. Citing a difference is begging the question.
It is possible that men and women are each generally more apt at certain things. Say, spatial reasoning. Say, language.
Cite or GTFO.
posted by vapidave at 10:35 PM on December 6, 2010


Vorfeed, your charts show Novice, Advanced, Elite, etc. Do you have a table that shows how those ratings translate to stars? Google isn't turning up anything useful.

thx.
posted by ryanrs at 2:56 AM on December 7, 2010


I have always secretly (before now, naturally) harboured a hypothesis that one of the reasons there seem to be fewer female chefs is that an awful lot of women who are career-driven want nothing to do with the kitchen. The whole "women belong in the kitchen" stereotype has been rammed down their throats for so long that when they choose to work, the kitchen is not where they go by choice. Totally speculative theory on my part. Feel free to tear it to shreds.
posted by bardophile at 3:22 AM on December 7, 2010


None of these things are good.

Oh yeah, it's lonely at the top. I tell you what, it's lonely at the bottom too.

We can't get around claims of sexism by stating that men have more negative traits that happen to be highly rewarded. That's a shining example of sexism - men are rewarded for having "manly" traits, even if those "manly" traits are harmful and destructive. Not only sexist, but fucked up. With a one-two punch that women with similarly "manly" traits are minimized or tokenized.
posted by muddgirl at 5:50 AM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Vorfeed, your charts show Novice, Advanced, Elite, etc. Do you have a table that shows how those ratings translate to stars? Google isn't turning up anything useful.

They don't translate directly to any other system; they're more of a benchmark as to where you might be after a given period of training. Check here for an explanation of what each level corresponds to.
posted by vorfeed at 8:55 AM on December 7, 2010


In fairness to Chef Ramsay, the head chef at his 3-Michelin-starred flagship restaurant in Hospital Road is, err, a woman.
posted by Decani at 12:05 PM on December 7, 2010


Re. women rising "to the top" of feminized professions: the last time I checked, men were very disproportionately represented among the management ranks of librarians.

For professional teachers, the "pinnacle" -- the "top" of the profession -- is administration. And again, there's disproportionate representation for men.

On the other hand, every single Director of Nursing I've ever heard of was a woman.
posted by lodurr at 1:46 PM on December 7, 2010


It is possible that men and women are each generally more apt at certain things.

It is also possible that aggregates of tokens constitute valid ethnographic data.

In other words: If everyone in this thread who's worked in a professional kitchen says it's a sexist environment, there's a high probability that professional kitchens are usually a sexist environment.
posted by lodurr at 1:49 PM on December 7, 2010


I have always secretly (before now, naturally) harboured a hypothesis that one of the reasons there seem to be fewer female chefs is that an awful lot of women who are career-driven want nothing to do with the kitchen.

An observation, which proves absolutely nothing: I work at a job that's about half manual labour, some of it unpleasant conditions, and the other half in a cozy office. We do get a lot of female applicants to these positions, call it very roughly half (somewhat more than now, somewhat less a decade ago). While some women do stick with the physical field work, men are disproportionately represented on the field staff, by as much as 80 to 90%.

Women seem to move from the field positions to the back office jobs much more quickly than their colleagues in general. They come in as keen as the males, but see the field jobs as their entry point (that's how many people are hired), to be gotten through as fast as possible and on to the job that most interests them, at a desk. Now, it's important to note that the people they work with don't change very much, these are largely changes in responsibilities (and hours, more regular , less over-time). The field work sometime involves physically demanding labour in sometimes nasty conditions, with a fair bit of travel to non-glamorous places. The office jobs are sedentary, mostly computer and paper work with meetings and such.

In the 15 years or so I've been here, I've never heard a whisper of harassment or poor working conditions. More than half my managers have been female at various points (not currently, but who knows). Furthermore women are now about 60% of the managers in my organization. I don't think we have a particularly hostile workplace and there's a clear path for women into senior positions with lots of role-models and possible mentors.

There are paths to success in my organization that involve being able to get away from the grunt work. Women seem to overwhelmingly take these routes. Of the 20 or so field staff right now, I think 4 are female, only 1 has seniority. Note that is is about equally possible to stay with the field staff and have career advancement. Our women staff have, historically, chosen other routes to management or seniority than through the field offices.

So there's that.

When I compare our workplace to a restaurant system that is an apprenticeship system for advancement, based entirely on a physically demanding job with bad hours, I wonder if a lot of women look at that and decide that's not for them. And, the way the system is structured, they then don't to become chefs. There may be lots of female owners and business managers, but fewer chefs.

This is not to say that all of the hostile workplace arguments aren't true and that things don't need changing. But, I do wonder if there are certain jobs and certain working conditions that men are more willing to participate in than women in general.
posted by bonehead at 2:48 PM on December 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


They don't translate directly to any other system; they're more of a benchmark as to where you might be after a given period of training. Check here for an explanation of what each level corresponds to.

Also keep in mind they're very rough approximations. I've been weight training for about two years now and am at the Advanced/Elite level, and I definitely would not consider myself to be either of those things.
posted by schroedinger at 2:49 PM on December 7, 2010


Anthony Bourdain, in the preface to Kitchen Confidential, describes the restaurant world as "a subculture whose centuries-old militaristic hierarchy and ethos of 'rum, buggery and the lash'* make for a mix of unwavering order and nerve-shattering chaos." It's hard to get more boyzone than that.

He periodically also makes allusions to a kitchen as a "pirate crew," and the New York restaurateur community is specifically called out as being "incestuous."

There may be self-selection by women going on, but there's pretty clearly also a very poisonous culture at work.

* Which for the unfamiliar is a reference, albeit an apocryphal one, to the British Navy.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:52 PM on December 7, 2010


There may be self-selection by women going on, but there's pretty clearly also a very poisonous culture at work.

Or there could be a self-selection by women going on because there's a poisonous culture at work.
posted by lodurr at 10:15 AM on December 10, 2010


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