Another Attempt to Answer the Female Chef Question

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Anita Lo. Photo: Mackenzie Stroh

Hashing out many of the issues most recently addressed in Gastronomica and on Anthony Bourdain’s “Turn and Burn” show, San Francisco chef Joyce Goldstein, food journalist Laura Shapiro, and Anita Lo of Annisa (who must be really tired of fielding these questions) talk to Leonard Lopate about women in the kitchen. Goldstein says the situation is a lot better in San Francisco, where Alice Waters paved the way — “women tend to be a little more independent.” She notes that half of the local chefs she interviewed for a recent project were women, but men do tend to get more press. “Most women I know are responsible, and they’re in their kitchen — they’re not out cavorting,” she says. “I’m always seeing pictures of Eric Ripert and David Chang and Tom Colicchio hanging out, going out … the posse is out, and they get press and the women are not doing that. They’re in their kitchen or their homes.”

Anita Lo, whose kitchen is split 50-50 between males and females, notes that although New York has “lost a lot of women chefs to babies,” big-name chefs like Mary Sue Milliken and Elena Arzak tend to have “house husbands.” Lo thinks that perhaps the reason New York has fewer female chefs is that the high rents mean restaurants have to be open for long hours, as opposed to San Francisco. “A lot of women have been raised focused on lifestyle or their happiness,” she says. “I think men are more career driven. And so faced with that sort of environment, a lot of people end up dropping out.” Still, while there is a “problem with women going into fine dining,” she still sees plenty doing “homey, bistro cooking.” While Goldstein dismisses the idea that women are scared off by the physical strain of working in a kitchen (she just asks for help when she needs to lift a heavy pot), Lo admits, “Pastry is a cooler environment — you’re not sitting there sweating in front of an oven the entire time,” hence the disproportionate amount of women in that field.

Lo admits she hasn’t had trouble getting press, partly because she’s a woman, but then again she feels she got some flack for trying to expand when she did Rickshaw Dumplings. Likewise, Goldstein asks whether Lidia Bastianich would’ve expanded her empire if she hadn’t been urged by her son Joe. “I think the multi-restaurant thing is a guy thing.”

You can listen to the entire discussion below.

Women Chefs [Leonard Lopate/WNYC]