of LOCAL — Dallas, TX
Antoinette Bruno: First off, why does this matter? Is this an important issue for you
Tracy Miller: Its importance to me lies more in the future for women chefs than my own current situation or hardships. As you know, my road was very unconventional and I was not put in many of the same situations most women chefs must find themselves in. I knew what I wanted to do and went about it achieving it in a different way. I taught myself in my own kitchen with no men around and I was highly influenced by George Brown and Kent Rathbun based on my experience watching them and working with them in the front of the house. I do believe that there is sometimes a lack of respect from men for women's work. And unfortunately that has to do with the individual. I don't feel like this is something that can change overnight.
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?
TM: Not really. I think if a woman is mentally focused on rising to the top she’ll rise regardless of the work. Trust me, there are more male “chef coasters” than there are women. I think the physical demands are easily met if the woman is in shape and determined and if she has an adequate staff to assist — which every man needs too. It’s the mental and emotional demands that can push you over the edge. But again, to me it’s more about the individual — rather than a man versus woman thing.
AB: Another general stereotype circulating is that women chefs have “more soul” so to speak, and cook from the heart. It’s true that I can’t think of very many experimental female chefs, apart from Elena Arzak, but I’m not sure that it’s a fair generalization. How do you feel about it? Is the experimental kitchen more gendered than the regular professional kitchen?
TM: No. I don’t think this is true either. I think a man can have just as much “soul” as a woman. I think it’s what’s inside the person...where the person is coming from in their hearts. It’s about their true passion. I do believe, however, that sometimes a woman’s passion can take hold of her in a different way because women are more emotional. So if a woman is passionate about cooking — then her chances of shining with soulful cooking are greater!
AB: The stereotypical chef is a divorcee. The lifestyle challenges relationships like no other. What are your thoughts on this? How does it affect women differently from men?
TM: I don’t know that much about the stereotype. I can see where that might be the case — but I wouldn’t say that for sure. I do believe without a doubt that the lifestyle challenges relationships like no other. And if a married woman with children is to choose this career — I can certainly see how that would be a gigantic conflict. A great sous chef is all I can think of — or a great man at home to understand and help with the kids...until she found a great sous chef!
AB: Does your family life and the choices you've made, have to do with your success?
TM: Again , it’s finding the right support group that understands. To me, owning a restaurant can be a handicap in a relationship. And to keep growing, building, and staying fresh in this business, you can never ever stop, ever. So that truth is not a choice in this business, it’s a reality. And it’s a choice you have to make and/or find out the hard way. If you have a family then you have to communicate these realities and be honest about them. It will and can take its toll on family life. Again it’s just about your support group, honesty, and really facing this truth, especially if you want to be successful in a different kind of a way.
AB: Who have your biggest mentors been? Men vs women?
TM: I would say mostly men — not because there are more of them but because I, as a chef, resonate with the food style first. A few mentors: Jean-Georges, Thomas Keller, Danny Meyer, Donna Hay, Alice Waters. All of these have inspired me in some form or fashion because of what they do and because of what they represent in this business.
AB: How is a kitchen run by a woman different from a kitchen run by a man — or is it all nonsense?
TM: Tough call. My gut might say that a woman’s kitchen is cleaner, more organized, and calmer. But again, I really believe this is about the person more than the sex.
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