Interview with Chef Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group - New York, NY
Antoinette Bruno: This issue of women chefs and the lack of women chefs keeps coming up in the media, what are your thoughts on the issue? Is it something you think about?
Danny Meyer: Absolutely. We are missing a main ingredient here not having more women savory chefs. We have lots and lots of women line cooks.
AB: Marco Pierre White recently said that he thought it was the physical nature and macho culture of the modern restaurant responsible for women being less likely to reach the top. He said “Restaurant kitchens are a man’s world. The work is physical and demanding. It is the men who rise to the top.” Do you agree with him?
DM: I can’t say women are better cooks than men or vice versa.
AB: I curious to know what you think. Why do you think we don’t have more women executive chefs?
DM: I think it’s the specific hours. Women are traditionally the caregivers in relationships and the hours that one needs to be in the kitchen are at odds with having a family.
AB: I think you are on to something. We don’t see a shortage of women pastry chefs. That is also a strenuous job – but the hours are different. Is it more strenuous to make risotto versus pastry? I don’t think so, but pastry chefs can start their day really early and don’t need to be there for service.
DM: Our dining rooms have always had a balance of women managers and servers. There are gifts for hospitality that are different for men and women. Men and women are different. Just is there are differences with how something is presented on the plate and how that plate is served. This is something that Marco Pierre White said too: “there is more ego in the plate with men.” I hate making gross generalizations but I think it’s true.
AB: Describe how the gifts are different.
DM: In the same way our species has hunters and gatherers there are different ways servers welcome guests to the table depending on whether they’re men or women. I can’t put my finger on all the differences but it can taste different when women cook for you (versus a man).
AB: Another general stereotype circulating is that women chefs have “more soul” so to speak, DM: and cook from the heart. What do you think about this?
I learned this in Italy where by the way the opposite is true. There are not enough men in the kitchen there, it seems as if the mama was the one always in the kitchen and the husband running the dining room. It’s the type of cuisine there – very comforting.
AB: Have you ever had a female executive chef?
DM: We have a female executive chef, Lyn Bound at Moma Café Two and Terrace 5 which serves 1500-2000 covers day. So you can’t tell me for a second she can’t withstand the pressures or physical nature of the job. But her hours are Museum hours – she starts at the crack of dawn and is done when the museum shuts early evening. Her service is done and she can go home.
AB: What can we do in the industry to get more women executive chefs?
DM: You are in a position to do this. There are many people who would love to not unwittingly be posing obstacles to women becoming exec chefs. The key here is education and dialogue. Find out what the obstacles women are facing and why they are not getting to the executive chef level and then addressing it with seminars to help them. You can do this at your Congress.