The Dominance of Male Chefs
At the present time women can study, work and vote on the same level as men; they became independent and liberated, and the times of sexual discrimination passed long ago. However, there is one sphere that hints on its existence. It is a restaurant industry, namely the art of professional cooking. The fact is paradoxical: 98 per cent of kitchen public catering institutions are managed by men (NCA).The opinion that women’s administrative qualities for dominating in “a big kitchen” are insufficiently developed is completely wrong (Duane). It can be proved by a growing number of women positions — managers of hospitals, editors-in-chief of newspapers and magazines, heads of the large companies — which often demand the organization of a much bigger number of employees than it is possible to find in the best-known restaurants of the world.
The truth is that the reasons with which people try to explain the absence of women among the well-known chefs are not objective. Women seldom achieve success as chefs generally because men, wishing that or not, decided to monopolize this sphere of activity. Many representatives of a “stronger sex”, who “allow” women to enter the kitchen, often do it only at a basic level and seldom give women a chance to make such a progress that they can be compared in a serious competition with men (Bebea).
Since the 17th century, women have been cooks traditionally in rural taverns and restaurants, while a delicate cuisine at expensive restaurants and in other exclusive food institutions was always a prerogative of men. Thomas Jefferson, before he became president in 1801, lived on a magnificent plantation in Virginia, and the food for him was prepared by female slaves. When Jefferson moved to Washington, he employed there a French male chef to manage the presidential cuisine. Since then, many U.S. Presidents, including Eisenhower, Trumen and John Kennedy, employed female cooks for private dinners; but they took male chefs for the cuisine management in the White House (Narayan 18).
In England, women have been traditionally responsible for cooking in the houses of princes, barons and counts since the 15th century; the heads of the royal kitchen, on the other hand, have always been men there. Women were not accepted in the Royal Society of Chefs.
There exist five main arguments, which almost always support male chefs and try to explain the absence of women in the highest ranks of this profession (Narayan 17). The first three treat a physiological difference of sexes, and the other two concern psychological differences.
1) The physical activity required to be carried out by the chef is too heavy for the majority of women.
2) Because of the need and desire to have and bring up children, women cannot work as long and much as it is required from the chef.
3) Women have a lower level of flavoring sensitivity than men; this feature disqualifies them in the course of cuisine creation.
4) Women consider cooking as something personal while men are proud of the food and can abstract from the person who consumes it.
5) Women’s managerial skills, necessary for the organization of the cooking process, are worse developed.
All these arguments sound reasonably at the first sight; however, after a more thorough examination of each of them, they do not give into logic or do not represent the facts.
For example, the chef needs great physical endurance to lift big pans, to carry heavy boxes with products as well as to stir sauces or soups, which are being prepared for a large number of guests. This could be true in relation to the Middle Ages, but not nowadays. Today, when nobody denies that the work of the chef is a hard physical work, modern chefs should hardly move 4-5 tons of furniture the whole day, sweep, wash and vacuum enormous spaces, clean glossy stretch ceilings, wash toilets or carry huge bags with products — such activities are performed daily by most of female housewives.
The second argument, which states that it is necessary for a chef to toil much, often overtime or in shifts, is quite logical. It can be easily explained by the fact why many people do not move through the ranks in the profession of the cook. However, it is very important that this argument is equally related to both women and men. It can be proved by a constantly growing number of women in medicine, law, psychiatry, journalism — professions which also often require a lot of time.
Some individuals, when speaking about the increased employment, claim that women do not achieve success as chefs because the way to success lies through a long and difficult vocational training. Such training is undoubtedly essential to train a good chef, although it is also a part of the formation of a good surgeon or lawyer.
“The marital status of a woman or presence of children influences the possibility of long or overtime work” is a correct statement, especially for traditional families where a woman assumes fundamental obligations on the housework, shopping and education of children (Christiansa). However, this argument does not extend on possibilities and desires of unmarried women or those whose partner shares household chores with them.
The third argument, stating that women genetically have a lower level of flavoring sensitivity, is a “popular wisdom”, which originated in the time of the Egyptian Pharaohs, and does not prove to be actually true (Duane). Many biological researches proved that a particular sex did not render a direct influence on flavoring feelings. A rather frivolous opinion that women are so anxious with their figure that never can try enough to “train” their taste can also be easily omitted (Christiansa). It is evident that many well-known chefs of the present (Pierre Ganyer, Jean-Michel Loreyn, Jean-Marie Amat, Alain Ducass and Didier Udil, for example) are rather slender people. Great chefs “have never been applied the requirement to be thick” (Narayan 23).
The fourth argument was about a difference in how women and men treat cooking. Page Smith, a historian, argues that, “though women can be excellent cooks, only some of them become capable to be great chefs” (Narayan 13). Supporting this statement, Smith writes:
For a woman, cooking is personal … she prepares something for those whom she loves and wishes to feed, thus her cooking is sacrificial. A well-known chef, on the other hand, is an artist of cookery. It is something absolutely different as a male chief is proud of food as it is and is capable to separate food from the person who is going to consume it. Women prepare for people whom they love. Men prepare for the sake of art (Narayan 15).
There is logic in this statement, but this logic is based on the fact that women have used to play a double role of a family provider and a housemaid for centuries. The sociologist Liora Gvion from the University of Tel Aviv assumes that, due to the fact these roles have been traditionally underestimated as well as because the majority of women still cook at home, women reject the idea to choose cookery as a profession (Duane). “Whatever modern they would consider themselves, all of them still perceive cooking as female housework” (Narayan 15).
The sociologist Robert Bierstedt considers that “only a man can become a genius in any professional sphere” (Narayan 15). The fact that there were not so many great women-chefs or great women-artists or conductors has something in common with genetics, and this phenomenon is simply connected to a number of difficult historical, psychological and sociological reasons. Women write fine recipe-books, think out excellent new dishes and even invent new styles of cooking (for example, Cajunsky and Creole cuisines created by female slaves in Louisiana). Despite all those facts, male chefs, burdened with their status, continue to limit women’s access to their prestigious profession.
Though more and more women master certain steps of the cooking profession (a sous-chef, a confectioner, a chief on desserts), “only tiny increase is still available in a share of women in the highest echelon of chefs of France, England, the USA or Israel” (Narayan 21). In 1952, the Holidaymagazine published the first annual list entitled “100 Best Restaurants of America”. Only two women were in the list of chefs of these restaurants (Narayan 26). 50 years later, in 2002, in the best one hundred, there was only one female chef (Alice Waters, Chez Panisse restaurant) (Narayan 26).
In China, many men are interested in cooking and are able to do it not bad. It is well-known that Chinese cuisine is one of the tastiest. Statistically, among the chefs of China, there are much more men than women (Narayan 44). Everything depends on the person: if an individual likes to cook, he or she will cook, irrespective his/her gender. Women often did not like cooking for some unclear reasons from their childhood. According to professor Hou, if to compare the chef quantity of men and women in 5 provinces of China, the ratio will constitute 170:100. In the Province of Henan, this figure reached the value 180:100 (Narayan 45).
The reason that there are so few famous female chefs in the world is not in the fact that women are not capable to be great cooks, and not because women do not want to become them. The sad but simple truth is that women did not become great chefs because this role was inaccessible to them previously. Whether chefs recognized it or not, but the men’s majority decided that achievements in this profession, as in football or military forces, should be exclusively men’s prerogative.