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Women Rule the Kitchen, But Not the Best Ones

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

WNYC

Men continue to dominate most labor sectors, but women rule in one of them: The food service industry. Still, they are not getting the most prestigious jobs in the kitchen.

Women represent only six percent of the head chef positions at 15 prominent U.S. restaurant groups, according to restaurant critic Ryan Sutton. He wrote about it recently for Bloomberg News, before he moved to the website Eater.

Sutton explained it's not clear why there aren't more female chefs. He said most restaurateurs he interviewed struggled to give him an explanation, especially considering that women are in high positions in the administrative side of many restaurants and are graduating from cooking schools at almost the same rate as men.

He said one of the most eloquent answers came from Katie Greco the director of operations, head of human resources and managing partner of the restaurant Craft in the Flatiron district. Sutton said she attributed it to the fact that a lot of women want to have a family. "And it can be difficult to have a family, have kids at a restaurant industry job, which is a physical job, a labor-intensive job where you are on your feet often from before noon until well after 1 a.m., in some of these fine dining restaurants."

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Comments [7]

Meeru from Seattle, WA

I am chef and co-owner of three prominent Indian restaurants in the Pacific Northwest: Vij's (1995) and Rangoli (2003) in Vancouver, BC and Shanik (2012) in Seattle. I am also a mother of two teenage girls. Not easy, but I do it my way. That's the key: taking the risk and then hopefully having the luxury to do it your way, which means taking off hours when needed to go on school field trips and then making up for that time. "Taking the risk" is what we overlook, whether we are single or have families. No matter what the career, we have to take a risk to get as close to what we want/need from our careers. Are we women encouraged to takes risks or play it safe? Taking a risk doesn't only refer to opening up your own business. It also refers to asking your employer for what you need in order to shine at your job.

Sure I work lots of odd and sometimes long hours, but I explained why to my family early on. I don't work well in the male macho culture of many kitchens that tv and media and the public celebrate as if our professional existence is made for reality tv. Virtually all three of my kitchens have an all female staff. Do I hire men, yes. Do they enjoy the quiet, calm hard work with no grunting or yelling? For a while, I think so, but most leave after they gain the experience and work in kitchens where there are mostly men. Our male front staff love working with our kitchens though. We women know what it's like to be a woman in the restaurant industry, so we cover for one another big time and most of us and can do the other's job. My number one rule: no yelling, no matter what the mistake. I remember being yelled at as an employee and it's just demeaning for both sides, really. Yelling ruins the creative and calm ambiance of my kitchens. Don't care who makes fun of that, because it works for me and my restaurants. Cooking and being a chef is about the nurturing beauty of food and feeding--not my ego and rock and roll. I listen to rock and roll with my head phones on, in the dark, in my living room, or while I'm running. But that's me, not another chef. So, women chefs/restaurant owners: be confident with your talent and ask for what you need in order for your private life, personality, talent and paycheck to co-exist as happily as possible. That is the basic risk we women should be encouraged to take and the male restaurant world needs to respect. You'll need to work some zig zag hours at times. Finally, Seattle is one city where female chefs (I'm relatively new here) are celebrated and are successful restaurant owners.

Mar. 28 2014 10:24 AM
Chiara Klaiman from Ridgewood NY

Yes women want to have families, but so do men. This is not the whole story.
Having worked in the restaurant industry for the past 5 and a half years, I can say that there is often a macho kitchen culture. More importantly though, the popular cultural image of a chef is a straight white man (or David Chang).
Female chefs are not celebrated for their contributions to the culinary landscape in the same way male chefs are, and that is the public's and the media's fault.
After Time Magazine ran their 'Gods of Food' article, I was on a great radio program with a bunch of women in the food industry that talked all about this. The program is on the Heritage Radio Network and it's called The Morning After: http://www.heritageradionetwork.org/episodes/5089-The-Morning-After-Episode-90-Lilith-Fair-of-Food

I now work for a female chef, and she's one of the best chefs I have ever worked under.

Mar. 27 2014 08:30 PM
Denorah DiClementi from NYC

Women chefs have yet to receive the attention they are due including an honest analysis of their place in the industry. Instead of writing about a women chef who started one of the biggest food trends in 50 years(Rebecca Charles' updated take on lobster rolls at Pearl Oyster Bar) we get stories asking why there aren't more women chefs--every 18 months like clockwork! Long before there was the pork bun (not remotely as widespread or copied as the lobster roll) of David Chang there was Rebecca. (Full disclosure, I co-wrote her cookbook.)Barbara Sibley never gets credit for bringing "real" Mexican food to NYC at La Palapa, nor does Amanda Cohen get the credit she deserves for her amazing take on vegetables and a woman started the cupcake trend. But let the Torisi guys feed you parmigiana and a turkey sandwich and whoa, Daddy!
As for women not seeking out professional kitchens because they want families, absurd. Women still run 85% of household kitchens--ever occur to anyone that we don't want to do it for a living, too? That we worked for centuries to get the Hell OUT of the kitchen and now that we are allowed to be doctors and lawyers, well, we might want to do other things?
Also consider that we lag behind men in every industry except teaching, nursing & other necessary, selfless & traditionally low paying careers.
Now consider all of the women who aren't included in these round-ups because they OWN their own top kitchen. Each year I work with a group called SHARE on a benefit called "A Second Helping of Life." It's a women chef's tasting event that benefits women with breast and ovarian cancer. I only have 30 spots--I could fill 50 with just NYC's great women chefs! Until someone takes a serious look at all of the talent out there and tries for an accurate analysis of why there isn't more (as if there necessarily should be) I cry foul on all of these articles.

Mar. 27 2014 03:56 PM
Karen from Pennsylvania

I'm looking for more in this story. I hope the fact that "some woman may want a family" does not tell the complete story of why women are not excelling in the best kitchen jobs.

Mar. 27 2014 12:33 PM
Alexa from Brooklyn

While the want for a family and more humane hours might be one reason that some women don't climb the ranks in the kitchen, rampant, institutionalized sexism is the elephant in the room that this story blatantly ignores. Women dominate many industries in number and are often encouraged/required to run the home kitchen, but once prestige and/or money become involved in the equation, the top slot is often handed to a man. Women in the kitchen by and large have to work harder just to prove that they can "make it with the boys", and then are criticized for not having the chops if they leave or don't excel, when in reality they were most likely pushed out and made uncomfortable in the process.

As a woman whose experience is mainly in the pastry department of restaurants (or the "pink ghetto" as it's called, which is an insult to all the women--and men--who are in fact talented and passionate about the craft and lowers the value of women's work in the area), and as a woman who is not interested in having a family, I'd say it may attract women because they are comfortable around other women who don't have a habit out of making sexist jokes, and because--here's a shocker--women actually work well together. Pastry departments, in my experience, are organized, tightly run entities, period. Not a home for wayward female chefs.

There is much too much to write on this subject, but there really should be a follow-up to this story addressing the misogyny, machismo and sexism in the industry--not just the fact that sometimes women want to have babies and male-run industries still haven't fully figured out how to allow that.

Finally, I'd like to commend all the incredible women I worked with in the Craft family of restaurants! I was very proud to work for you.

Mar. 27 2014 10:04 AM
Ed from nyc

Reading the story, by the end of it, problem solved. Women want families. Of course headline and WNYC imply more nefarious goings-on: discrimination, misogyny, etc. But it isn't the conclusion, of course. Who needed to read this to know that it is ultimately that women get pregnant and men don't? End of story.

But WNYC and your ilk, if you find a way one day to get men to get pregnant (and god (or no-god) knows, you are trying) let us all know and we will adjust accordingly. For now, unfortunately for you and your ilk, biology rules and probably will for the foreseeable future.

Keep tilting at those windmills!

Mar. 25 2014 01:43 PM
Nick from UWS

The grammar of the headline of this story is terrible. It should be "Women Rule The KITCHENS, But Not The Best ONES". If you have just the word "Women" and the word "Ones" as plural, the effect is to imply that not the best women rule the kitchen, the exact opposite of what you want to convey.

Mar. 25 2014 12:58 PM

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