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Gender and Restaurant Cooking


docsconz
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Amongst the upcoming events at The Astor Center in NYC, one caught my eye for a variety of reasons. Titled Gender Confusion: Unraveling the Myths of Gender in the Restaurant Kitchen, it brings together a who's who of people in the restaurant industry including Grant Achatz, Dana Cowin and others to navigate through a blind tasting prepared by male and female chefs to attempt see if there is anything to the idea that one can tell the cooking of a man from that of a woman. Many feel that there is a difference.

In a 2007 San Francisco Chronicle article, Mike Weiss wondered why he preferred women's cooking to men's.

"I've long wondered if the reason was that, at the highest level, women cooked differently from men. And whether I -- a man of a certain age with a diminished sense of smell, a less than discerning palate and a galloping appetite -- could really

taste the difference on the plate."

In that article, Joyce Goldstein claims

"Listen, there are two kinds of cooks, there's mama cooks and show-off cooks," said the doyenne of San Francisco women chefs. "Now, not all mama cooks are women but all the show-off cooks are men. Boys with chemistry sets. Boy food is about: 'Look at me!' "

"Mama food," said the 71-year-old grandmother of three who was preparing the Passover meal for her family, "is there to satisfy you, to feed you, to take care of you. You remember mama food and it makes you happy. That other stuff, it amazes you, but it doesn't make you happy."

Further along in the article, Weiss talked to the sometimes controversial Alice Waters who said,

"Women naturally bring that sense that food has ultimate moral purpose. And men who have been thinking in artistic rather than economic ways bring their creativity."

More recently, at the James Beard Awards this year, Mario Batali said:

"It’s in women’s nature to be better because they don’t cook to compete, they cook to feed people."

There are a lot of gender related claims in the food media, and most of them assume that these differences exist. But do they? Most of them suggest that women chefs produce food that is feminine and rustic and full of soul, and men produce food that is precise, bold, and driven by ego.

Two writers (and former cooks), Hugh Merwin and Tejal Rao, don't agree and are gathering 20 of New York City's chefs, male and female, to create a blind tasting for a small panel that includes Grant Achatz of Alinea, Dana Cowin of Food and Wine, and academic and cookbook

author Gwen Hyman. The group intends to carry out an experiment, tasting the chefs' dishes blindly and discussing whether or not these claims are real, relevant, or damaging.

It should make for an interesting conversation. What are your thoughts on gender in the kitchen and on the plate? Do you think you could tell the difference between a sardine course cooked by a man and a sardine course cooked by a woman? Why or why not?

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Do you think you could tell the difference between a sardine course cooked by a man and a sardine course cooked by a woman?

Maybe, but I could so easily be deceived. There's no tell-tale Adam's apple or give-away size twelve stilettos.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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I don't know if I could tell you the difference between a man's cooking and a woman's cooking. However, I believe a good kitchen should have a mix of men and women. If there isn't at least one woman in the kitchen on the savory side, I - a man - will feel awkward and unsettled. I just staged at a big restaurant where all 7 line cooks were men and the three cooks in the pastry department were women - I didn't take the job.

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  • 4 weeks later...

This topic has actually come up many times over the course of a few pints with other cooks. I often find that the conversation always ends up leaning towards how male Chefs often "prefer" having other men in the kitchen and vice versa with female Chefs.

Although I do believe all kitchens should have some diversity, kitchens work better when the conversations and companionship made between the staff lean more towards having common ground. I definitely know the atmosphere in my kitchen is very different when our girls have the same day off. When the girls are away... the boys will play.

I recently had a meal at a mostly female run kitchen. Eight girls and one boy in the kitchen. Oddly enough, the male is the pastry chef. The food was amazing, however, you could tell immiediately that the food wasn't neccessarily "homely", but did remind me of the simple melding of flavour combinations that I became used to growing up with no male figures in my life as a child.

The food and plate-ups weren't as bold as I'm used to seeing when I work in mostly male run kitchens. As guys, regardless of how tight-knit we are, always try to one up each other. That didn't seem to be the case while we enjoyed our meal. Every dish that came out didn't out-do the last, it did however, compile at the end to be an absolute adventure in flavour without the slightest bit of flash.

No-one can say which genders cuisine is better. You can, though, tell the difference in food.

That's my 2 cents

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I really find a lot of the gendered talk in that article silly. I do think that there might be some differences in style, but I think any woman who has the ability and dedication to rise to the top in a restaurant kitchen is just as, if not more, bold than her male counterparts. The kitchen world is only now becoming more inclusive, but female chefs have already made great showings, and not just with "mama food." The idea that women want only to nurture is an old chestnut I could do without.

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I think that a lot of people could discern a difference.

I think Joyce Goldstein hit it on the head when she said that not all mama cooks are women but all show off cooks are men. While I disagree with the term "Show off cook," I think she means that women (even professional) almost invariably (I say almost because there is an exception to every rule, though I can't think of one off the top of my head) are the rustic-homey-elevated comfort food-style of cooking.

I mean, are there any female chefs who lead/chef restaurants of similar style as, say, The French Laundry or Alinea, or Charlie Trotters, or Jean Jorge, etc...? I can't think of any.

I want to be clear that I am in no way stating that women CAN'T cook that style of food, I'm just saying that it seems that women who run restaurants/kitchens don't cook that way.

I think I could tell a difference if I was presented a dish from Alinea vs. a dish from, say, Chez Panisse. But if it were something like two braised rabbit papardelle, one cooked by a man and one by a woman, I don't know if I could tell a difference.

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I think that a lot of people could discern a difference.

I think Joyce Goldstein hit it on the head when she said that not all mama cooks are women but all show off cooks are men. While I disagree with the term "Show off cook," I think she means that women (even professional) almost invariably (I say almost because there is an exception to every rule, though I can't think of one off the top of my head) are the rustic-homey-elevated comfort food-style of cooking.

I mean, are there any female chefs who lead/chef restaurants of similar style as, say, The French Laundry or Alinea, or Charlie Trotters, or Jean Jorge, etc...? I can't think of any.

I want to be clear that I am in no way stating that women CAN'T cook that style of food, I'm just saying that it seems that women who run restaurants/kitchens don't cook that way.

I think I could tell a difference if I was presented a dish from Alinea vs. a dish from, say, Chez Panisse. But if it were something like two braised rabbit papardelle, one cooked by a man and one by a woman, I don't know if I could tell a difference.

I reckon a female chef would be less likely to use a towering phallus as her inspiration when it comes to plating.

Julian's Eating - Tales of Food and Drink
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