The culinary industry is dominated by men. I feel like that may be surprising to some people because of the number of stereotypes surrounding women in kitchens. This is not to say that the women in the industry aren’t doing amazing things, because they absolutely are. But the most accomplished, held to the highest standard chefs, are mostly men. The people I read about in my culinary textbooks: men. You get the idea.
During one of my classes, I wrote down a startling statistic. Less than 20% of chefs are women. I’ve always been curious as to why there is such a big gap in the industry when so many people consider it to be the “calling” of a woman to cook. The answer is this: the industry has been and still is sexist. Women have excelled in the food industry; we just had to prove our place. Women in positions of leadership in the industry have done amazing things for food worldwide.
Part of the reason why the industry has been so male-dominated since the beginning of time is that women could not have a formal culinary education. Culinary schools were only open to men. This was mainly because of the time period, but also because of the fact that women are stereotyped as more nurturing and caring people. Restaurant kitchens are not like that. They are rigid, difficult, and cause lasting effects physically and emotionally. Because of these stereotypes about women, it was believed for far too long that women didn’t belong in commercial kitchens, but only in household ones.
Women can and have brought new perspectives to running commercial kitchens. Many women who have excelled in the restaurant industry have had to “prove” themselves to their male counterparts regardless of their experience or education. Women in the restaurant industry are probably the toughest people there because of all the crap they’ve had to ensue. As research from many organizations has shown though, women in positions of leadership have fostered a more creative, organized, kind, and well-executed kitchen. And they still manage to take no shit.
We need to have more conversations about women in the food industry and stop perpetuating stereotypes that their place is in a home kitchen and nowhere beyond. The food industry needs more women in it, and also needs to recognize the amazing women that have come so far in the industry. Clare Smyth, the only UK-based female chef with
three Michelin stars. Cristeta Comerford, a Filipino-American chef who is the executive chef in the White House. She is the first female and person of Asian descent to ever hold this position. Not only do I consider these women huge role models, bad-ass, and amazing people, I see them as leaders in the food industry. We need to give women the positions of leadership in the food industry that they deserve, rather than making them prove their worthiness, and then we can see what more amazing things they are capable of.
Culinary Institute of America