Letter from the Editor — Women Chefs
I just spent the past week in Chicago, tasting with some great chefs. I visited all kinds of restaurants, many off service but just as many during service, and I was struck by how the busiest restaurants in the city were still the steakhouses. It drove home how successful a niche the steakhouse has found in our culinary culture. Even as cities expand and take pride in their expansion — and Chicago takes serious pride in its alternative culinary offerings — the steakhouse thrives.
While sitting in one of the busiest steakhouses in the city, surrounded by suits and 20oz ribeyes, I read two articles about women in the kitchen that my editorial team had forwarded me. Both were published last week, but were two of many that I’ve read the last few months. I had tasted with 11 chefs during my trip thus far, but only 1 was a woman. Looking around me I saw businessmen at every table and wondered: do you have to be part of the boys club to succeed in our industry?
I thought back to my experience working in kitchens in France twenty years ago. I was the only woman in the kitchen, but coming from Wall Street, this didn’t scare me. The men I worked with treated me as they would treat any new cook, man or woman, teasing me more because I was an American in a French kitchen than anything else. They expected me to pull my own weight: I was asked to lug sacks of potatoes and lift 50 pound stock pots just like every other cook in the kitchen. The problem was that those pots and sacks were as big as I was and, at barely 5 feet tall (and 98 pounds), I couldn't lift them! Usually, a sous chef or another cook would lift them for me, and eventually the head chef suggested I take up weight training — so every morning at 6am I hitchhiked to the gym, and then went on to work.
Ultimately I decided that I didn't want to spend the next 10 years training to lift the stock pots, and that the physical challenge was more than I was prepared to endure. So I found another avenue to pursue in food that made me just as happy — StarChefs. These past couple of days, I’ve been interviewing women chefs to get their thoughts on the issue. We shared our personal stories and discussed the big questions: raising capital, having kids, managing relationships, mentors, how they run their kitchens, and the difficult choices they’ve made along the way — see what they have to say here. I found that these women, though they took different paths, each succeeded because they knew what they wanted and refused to give up. Not a single one of them complained about being treated unfairly simply because they were women. We'd also like to hear from you, our readers, about your experiences.
Editorially, women tend to run the industry — food journalism, magazine editors, blogs — we have a lot of influence and impact as diners and writers. This week, we’re celebrating two important women alongside Scott Peacock and his true Southern cuisine: Elena Arzak, who shares her squid powder technique and Patricia Quintana, whose Mexican cuisine d’auteur I explored on a trip to Mexico last year.