Dear Time: Where Are All the Women Chefs?
Martin Schoeller for TIMECurrent cover for Time Asia
It's almost too depressing to ponder: Time Magazine has come out with a food issue, and it's as if the authors have forgotten that women exist in the world at all. While the American cover features a political article, international issues of Time have chefs David Chang, Alex Atala and René Redzepi on the cover, with the headline "The Gods of Food." OK, fine.
But the part that makes me want to barf and cry simultaneously is this family tree of important chefs internationally, which features not one female chef. The tree is set up to show the "major lineages" of international cuisine, beginning with influential chefs who have spawned many talented dudes who have come through their kitchens. "Dudes" being the operative word.
Even with the massive exclusion of Alice Waters as an influencer, or Anne-Sophie Pic, even if we were to believe that no important female chef has come through one of these kitchens (or even "shared techniques and inspiration"), the chart has two columns set aside for "influential outliers" -- chefs who have influenced today's cuisine and who don't fit neatly into one of these lineages. But they are all men.
How did we get to this? How, in 2013, is this possible?
A few weeks back, when Ruth Reichl came to Los Angeles to discuss the state of California cuisine with a panel of chefs, a large part of the conversation was dedicated to the question of why the era of female chefs has never happened.
Reichl pointedly asked the male chefs on the panel whether they had women working in their kitchens and got a range of answers, from "no, but we honor women by cooking our grandmother's recipes" to "yes, about half of my staff is female."
What I wish someone had brought up was that, unlike many cities, L.A. has an amazing history of female chefs, and our culinary lineage has a strong maternal line. So many of L.A.'s great chefs are women: Nancy Silverton, Suzanne Goin, Susan Feniger, Mary Sue Milliken, Suzanne Tracht, Karen Hatfield, Sherry Yard ... the list goes on and on. L.A. has a lot to be proud of in the department of female chefs.
But when things like this happen, when an international magazine dedicates an issue to chefs and fails to include one woman chef in all of its coverage, it's hard to ignore that the problem is maybe not the lack of female chefs but the ingrained cultural feeling that the things women do are not as important or noteworthy as the things men do. The downright bro-iness of the Time article about the friendship between Chang, Atala and Redzepi is some proof of this.
"In their combined iconoclastic approach to fine dining, they have transformed the image of the chef from distant aesthete to in-your-face dude," the article says. As New York Times critic Pete Wells said via Twitter this morning in regards to this sentence, "Women need not apply."
In other words, the Alice Waterses, the Nancy Silvertons, the April Bloomfields -- their work is just not as important or exciting as all these dudes. It's not -- what? Cutting-edge enough? It's too girly? I'd like to see someone try to tell April Bloomfield that to her face.
This is no longer a profession totally dominated by men, and it hasn't been for some time. It's just that too often, the things women contribute aren't taken seriously. Thanks to Time, the problem has only become all the more obvious.
Get the Squid Ink'd Newsletter
Sign up for our weekly food newsletter, which features top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips and a link to our print review.