Chef Patti Jackson runs the kitchen of two very different Italian restaurants — you might even call them "male" and "female" restaurants, under the specifications Bruni laid out last week — I Trulli and Centovini. Jackson is also one of 25 chefs cooking at the Prince George Ballroom on Tuesday evening as part of a tasting/benefit for Women Chefs & Restaurateurs (WCR), a group our New York Diet subject last week, Lidia Bastianich, helped found in 1993. The $75 ticket helps pay for scholarships for women in the field, but Jackson found the group key for networking in a hectic industry. Since she’s come out ahead in the chaos, we asked about her kitchen style, the varying treatment of sexes in restaurants, and of course what dish she’ll be whipping up for the lady-heavy crowd tomorrow.
How do you feel about restaurants serving women first and treating them differently as diners?
It’s so ingrained in what we do, it’s almost not sexist. In all our restaurants there’s an L key. [A notation by the server to indicate where a woman is sitting so she is served first.] I think when people break that mold it becomes confusing. For example, I don’t like to be called "chef." For me, having someone say "oui, chef" in the middle of service doesn’t make me feel more powerful. It puts up unnecessary boundaries between the kitchen and everybody else. We’re all working toward the same things.
So does it bother you, as a food expert, if a server looks to a male counterpart you’re dining with to lead?
I’m really bossy. I don’t know if that’s ever actually happened. I think there’s also a personality aspect to it. I present myself as somebody who’s interested. I think certainly the days of the shrinking-violet woman who get the menu without prices — that’s pretty much over.
And you don’t care if a male or female gets a plate first?
Ideally, I get everything first.
So, are your restaurants "male" or "female"?
I think of them both as female because I work in them. I mean, I Trulli is a really homey restaurant. We get a lot of kind of guys who want their bowl of pasta or veal Milanese chop, but the restaurant is really a reflection of the owner’s mother. Centovini; it’s designed by male design geeks. It has a definite masculine femininity. I would say it’s a little more delicate. Perhaps ladies like it, but in both cases our clientele run down the middle. [In designing the menu], it’s two different neighborhoods; two different tastes.
What are you serving at the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs tasting?
Pork-belly braciole with broccoli rabe, like a stuffed pork skin rolled with pine nuts and stuff and braised in tomato sauce.