Women’s Day & the American Restaurant Industry

An intriguing article showed up in my Twitter feed yesterday as tweets about International Women’s Day began packing their punches.

#IWD2014 #intwomensday and #HappyWomensDay marked discussions underscoring the strides that have been made in women’s equality. Hashtags like these highlight inspirational, trendsetting and glass-breaking women’s words and actions, that have empowered females to demand the respect and rights that are unquestionably ours, despite being denied them for generations. 

This article that was linked in my Twitter feed, Women Everywhere in Food Empires But No Head Chefs, by Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton describes the phenomenon of renown restaurant empires across US having significant numbers of women working in administration, marketing, and other desk and PR jobs. Not in the kitchen. Certainly not as head chefs.

This got me thinking about the history food. The idea that women belong in the kitchen is outdated and offensive in so many ways.

Yet does that mean women no longer have a place in the kitchen?

“Men overwhelmingly hold the highest paying and most prominent kitchen jobs at ambitious, independent restaurants across America. Women occupy just 6.3 percent, or 10 out of 160 head chef positions at 15 prominent U.S. restaurant groups analyzed by Bloomberg. This holds true even as women have advanced to top tiers of pastry, wine service, dining room management and ownership in these same restaurant groups.”

Our mothers, our helpers/ nannies, those who feed us on a daily basis, who are more invested in our lives and health, and just want us to eat well, do they have a place in the kitchen?

There seems to be a debate in the American industry where this is concerned. Some think women just don’t want the same jobs as men. I’m not sure I buy that. Others believe in the ‘ticking clock’ idea, that women may not get into higher positions in the kitchen because they want a family and just can’t make that the time commitment that one might deem necessary to be a chef or head chef.

Obviously family matters to women, but why doesn’t family matter more to male chefs? Why do they not feel a stronger desire to invest time in their family over their work?

Should the careers and goals of female chefs be penalized because they want to have a family?

Why does it seem that females chefs (and women in general!) have to choose between a family and a career?

Sutton reported that “Many of the chefs and executives…recounted stories of male chefs taking paternity leave. But almost no one could recite the specific case of a female sous-chef or higher taking maternity — and returning. One exception was April Bloomfield, who said a female sous at The Spotted Pig took time off, twice, for the birth of each of her two children.”

Note that 3 out of the 5 gastro-pub locations of the Friedman-Bloomfield partnership have female-run kitchens.

33-year-old Nicole Brisson, kitchen lead at Carnevino, Las Vegas “feels like she has to work ‘five to ten times harder’ because of her gender…She can spend as many as 19 hours a day at work…and..only [sleeps] three to four hours a night.” She commented that she would have to quit her job if she had a child, and that “waking up to a screaming baby…would be a sacrifice.”

But why does it have to be?

All these statistics and comments might not mean anything. It might just be that in most cases, males are more qualified for lead-kitchen jobs, or that male chefs apply  for these jobs in greater numbers than females. Personally, I believe it’s not that simple. Underlying reasons need to be examined.

There can, and needs to be, more protection for female chefs wishing to have a family.

Such an option, it seems to me, needs to be obviously available and non-stigmatized. Women should have the option of doing what they love and loving their family. Both are equally important and incomparably fulfilling.

A choice is unnecessary.

Women have always had a place in the kitchen, and while we don’t only belong there, we definitely should have that place if we want it.



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