Hot on the heels of New York restaurateur Keith McNally’s allegations of sexism against New York Times critic Frank Bruni comes a story from another Times (and, frankly, another time). The London Times ran a story last week alleging that the differences in the ways men and women cook are so strong that many foodies can tell the difference as soon as they see a dish. The article claims that women are more nurturing and into simpler (and, it is implied, less palate-challenging) dishes, while men are aggressive and experimental. It’s difficult not to read the argument as misogynistic. There’s a basic deterministic slant to the piece that implicitly states that women are more retiring and timid while men are brilliant expanders of the culinary world.
Things get even more outlandish when the Times puts this idea to the test by asking two chefs, one male and one female, to prepare two courses of food for a panel of experts who then guesses which dishes were made by which chefs. During a debate about the main courses (“roast Anjou squab pigeon with sage and potato fritter, seared foie gras and madeira jus, garnished with baby broad beans vs. a baby vegetable tagine with spicy harissa yogurt and flatbread.”), one of the (male) panelists claims not only that a woman would never cook pigeon and foie gras together ("there’s loads of testosterone-driven oomph in the flavors”), but that the dish’s garnish of garlic chips is the absolute proof that the dish was made by a man. “A woman wouldn’t want that full-on garlic flavor in her mouth!” Really? REALLY?
Even if one ignores the blatant sexism of many of those cited in the piece, however, the basic premise is simply not correct. San Francisco chef and blogger Brett Emerson is surprised to learn that he, apparently, cooks like a girl, and mentions a startling variety of chefs who don’t conform to the gender norms set by the Times. Even just within the Boston restaurant scene, it’s incredibly easy to find counterexamples. Sure, Jody Adams’ cooking at Rialto is beautifully restrained, but so is Ken Oringer’s food at Clio. Jorge Lopes is rightly acclaimed for his aggressive flavor profiles at The Blue Room, but so is Barbara Lynch at No. 9 Park. Come to think of it, there isn’t much that’s too delicate about the whiskeyed calf’s liver with smoked bacon buttered grits at Lydia Shire’s Locke-Ober. Huh. You don’t say.