Kitchen bitchin'

Kitchen bitchin'

When Time magazine left out female chefs in its recent pick of 13 "Gods of Food" in its Nov 18 edition - people it deemed most influential in food - the perceived gender bias in the cover story stirred up a fiery stew online.

That's not surprising when one considers that even among the major deities of the Greek pantheon, six of the Twelve Olympians were goddesses.

Not that there were no women in Time's list. But none of the chosen four "food goddesses" is a chef.

Two female pastry chefs were briefly mentioned in a sidebar, like a petit four served after a glorious degustation menu. A sweet afterthought.

It's poor consolation, given that not one female chef made the jump from Time's chopping board into its two-page graphics of a "family tree" tracing the international influence of star chefs and their chains of proteges.

Some took issue with the cover of the international edition, which featured chefs David Chang, Rene Redzepi and Alex Atala. I thought that was feminism in its most petty form until I saw the trio in another picture inside, in waders and chef hats.

Sure, the photo concept lends a nice comic effect, but it's no laughing matter when a respected news magazine seems to send the message that female chefs can't match their culinary brothers in reputation and influence (apparently Time's selection criteria). So why were female chefs left out?

Time section editor Howard Chua-Eoan told food blog Eater that Time "did not want to fill a quota of a woman chef just because she's a woman".

Sounds legit, but isn't that a sugarcoated way of saying that female chefs are not good enough?

He then skewers himself in the foot with cliches like "the harsh reality of the current chefs' world, which unfortunately has been true for years: it's still a boys club".

Is it? One wonders if Mr Chua-Eoan is stuck in the Middle Ages, especially when he says "the female chef is a relatively recent phenomenon".

A male-dominated industry does not mean a boys' club or that male chefs exclude women from their culinary circles.

Chef Janice Wong, 30, who heads and owns 2am: dessertbar, says she has yet to experience discrimination in the field and adds: "Men are a majority in the industry, but they are quite evolved in their attitudes...and treat women chefs as equals."

She cites physical demands and long hours as factors that deter women from joining the craft.

Executive chef Karla Mendoza, 44, who helms the Pizzeria Mozza kitchen, says that while the stereotype that men make better chefs exists, for the most part, men in her profession treat her as an equal.

She says: "Being a woman doesn't hamper my ability to do the job. It boils down to having good work ethics."

Chef Christopher Millar, 46, executive chef of Stellar@1-Altitude, says that his seven female chefs were hired based on their skills, attitude and work ethics. He notes that despite there being more female chefs, not many run kitchens. They reach sous chef level or head the pastry section.

He says: "Very few chefs, male or female, reach the top of the industry."

The way I see it, no woman wants to suffer gender discrimination. But nor would any self-respecting woman seek special treatment based on gender. It's tough being a chef, and that goes for both men and women.

People like Mr Chua-Eoan only perpetuate outdated gender stereotypes. One can only pray that those in and outside the industry do not share his chauvinistic and patronising attitudes.

Share your views with Hedy at hedykhoo@sph.com.sg

hedykhoo@sph.com.sg


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