Female Chefs Are Honored, But Still Have a Ways to Go

Alex Raij.
Alex Raij. Photo: Patrick McMullan

The Beard Awards were criticized last year for failing to honor female chefs, but women seem to be better represented this year: Stephanie Izard’s Girl & the Goat and Barbara Lynch’s Menton are in the running for Best Restaurant. Suzanne Goin of Lucques is up for Outstanding Chef. Four out of five Outstanding Pastry Chef finalists are women. Nancy Oakes’s Boulevard is up for Outstanding Restaurant. And Sue Zemanick of Gautreau’s and Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar are in the running for Rising Star Chef of the Year. What’s more, today S. Pellegrino (best known for its World’s 50 Best Restaurants list) has announced its short list for a new accolade, the World’s Best Female Chef Award. Elena Azrak (Spain), Anne-Sophie Pic (France), and Nadia Santini (Italy) are in the running. And that’s not all!

According to Eater, John Fraser’s pop-up What Happens When will start hosting a Monday-night series of dinners that will “showcase and celebrate the talented women in the hospitality industry,” including guest chefs Leah Cohen and Vera Wong, Missy Robbins, Katy Sparks, Rebecca Charles, Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez, Lee Anne Wong, Patti Jackson, Sue Torres, Alex Raij, Emma Hearst, Ivy Stark, Jennifer Carroll, Amanda Cohen, Carla Hall, and Alex Guarnaschelli.

So everything’s cool, right? After all, April Bloomfield has been the subject of quite a few profiles, and Gabrielle Hamilton has gotten plenty of coverage as well (in addition to the five Times hits we mentioned, she was reviewed again by Frank Bruni, and today she tells Chicagoist that she was approached by The Next Iron Chef because they were “having such a hard time getting women [chefs]”). Can we stop asking that question that’s been asked so many times before: “Why aren’t there as many women cooking professionally as there are men?”

Not quite yet: Caroline Jann Dunbar, a chef out of Austin, Texas, asks that very question in an Eatocracy piece today. Her advice to female chefs trying to break into the fraternity is “don’t be a girl, but also don’t waste energy trying to be just like the rest of the men.” Here’s the meat of the essay.

We can’t just blame the guys: we have to take some of the responsibility. Don’t over-apologize, don’t cry when your chef chews you out, keep composure when in the weeds and don’t shy away from responsibility. Expect respect, but steer clear of accepting chivalrous help when on the clock. Also, lift the heavy sh*t.

How can you men affect this culture and evolve our professional world? Don’t assume that the women who want to work alongside you are unwilling, incapable or less of an asset because of their stature or genteel appearance. Cooking is a beautiful profession but a tough business, and anyone willing to take it on as a career understands that it’s not going to be easy. Also, make everyone lift the heavy sh*t.

Of course, female sushi chefs face a whole different set of problems.

Chefs with Issues: A call to arms for female chefs [Eatocracy/CNN]
What Happens When Launches Female Chef Dinner Series [Eater NY]
World’s 50 Best Restaurants launches inaugural Female Chef Award [Big Hospitality]

Female Chefs Are Honored, But Still Have a Ways to Go