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Did Alice Waters Make it Okay for Female Chefs?


weinoo
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I was having a discussion this afternoon about female chefs...I think it spun off of a discussion about a few of the ladies on Top Chef Masters, who are, in my opinion, pretty darn good chefs.

But who really was the ground breaker, at least here in the U.S.? I say Alice Waters. I know, I know, she wasn't "the" chef, she didn't "cook," blah blah blah. But she was there, in the beginning, at Chez Panisse. And I don't think there were many other (any?) women running restaurants back then...other than maybe some local diners or the like.

So, did Alice make it okay for ladies to go to cooking school and become star chefs in their own right?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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To take the question on a little more serious note, here in Indy we've been witnessing this same thing in the realm of motorsport. In 1977, the first female driver broke into the Indianapolis 500. It didn't really open the floodgates for female drivers, though.

More recently we have Danica Patrick, who has appeared to do that with the follow-ons of Sarah Fisher (who might've actually preceded Danica), Katherine Legge, Simona DiSilvestro, Ana Beatriz, and Milka Duno. The latter was an awful driver, but the rest were/are certainly competent, and even good (keep your eye on Simona).

While breaking into the game may be noteworthy, the advancement comes after that. Alice Waters is a controversial figure and I bet many of the Top Chef females would choose to disagree with her on some things. But that's when the change happens. When women are not a bloc and can be judged on their individual merits.

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I don't know - I think of AW as a movement not a chef

Okay. However you want to define it. A movement that emboldened females to start going to cooking school en masse and become chefs.They didn't before her.

To take the question on a little more serious note, here in Indy we've been witnessing this same thing in the realm of motorsport. In 1977, the first female driver broke into the Indianapolis 500. It didn't really open the floodgates for female drivers, though.

More recently we have Danica Patrick, who has appeared to do that with the follow-ons of Sarah Fisher (who might've actually preceded Danica), Katherine Legge, Simona DiSilvestro, Ana Beatriz, and Milka Duno. The latter was an awful driver, but the rest were/are certainly competent, and even good (keep your eye on Simona).

While breaking into the game may be noteworthy, the advancement comes after that. Alice Waters is a controversial figure and I bet many of the Top Chef females would choose to disagree with her on some things. But that's when the change happens. When women are not a bloc and can be judged on their individual merits.

Good analogy...I think.

Do all those drivers cook?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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At around the same time that Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse, Madeline Kamman began a cooking school outside Boston, and in 1974 opened a restaurant, Chez La Mere Madeleine. Though it was widely celebrated at the time, it closed only 4 years later. Accounts as to why vary. However, even with this brief lifespan both school and restaurant were influential. Some good chefs, such as Jimmy Schmidt and Gary Danko, studied/worked with Kamman during this time.


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I've got a few problems with your premise, Weinoo. (I know..you're shocked. )

1) Reality TV show chefs are on TV. The producers need to mix it up to keep the formula working, so you see multi-ethnic chefs & women. It has nothing to do with the cooking or skill levels. Why do you think they got picked for the show in the first place.

2) Julia Child is a home chef icon. She brought a new style of cooking into the kitchen.

3) Alice Waters broke the glass ceiling during a period when so called feminism was on the uptick. She hit the trifecta: right time, right place, right message. Jeremiah Tower may have a different take on the situation.

This generation of women begat women who were not afraid to take on the challenges of the kitchen. See: Gabrielle Hamilton. The same movement that sent women to cooking schools also sent them to med school and law school.

The wheel turns, that's all.

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I thought a chef ran a kitchen; in that case how exactly does Julia qualify?

Hathor - I may be misreading, but I think we both reached the same conclusion. You say Alice broke the glass ceiling and I agree.

Though I do think chefs like Mary Sue Milliken and Traci Des Jardins, both on Top Chef Masters, are great chefs in their own right.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Chef's do run restaurants, but that's not really what you asked. You asked what made it ok for women to go to culinary school etc. Julia Child was far more influential than Alice.

Clearly, as I said, you had already made up your mind about the topic before you made the thread.

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Right. In my opinion, AW was the woman who made it OK for women to make a career out of becoming a chef.

Also in my opinion, Julia did not. She made it OK for women to not be afraid to cook - in their own kitchens.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Well, lunatic that I am, I have. And I don't think an answer that says Julia was "clearly far more influential" without providing any evidence other than, ummm, none, proves that point.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I always understood that anyone who cooked professionally, which Julia Child certainly did, earned the title of chef. If she called herself a (or is it The) French Chef, I am surprised here anyone would want to quibble with her on that.

She worked at a higher, much more professional level than any other women depicted in the kitchen at the time, and I think she did a lot to inspire women that they could do the same. She had a big inspiring career in food, to imagine that didn't inspire women in any way except to stay home, seems pretty narrow to me. There weren't a lot of great career models out there for women at the time, but I'd definitely count her as one of them.

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Well, lunatic that I am, I have. And I don't think an answer that says Julia was "clearly far more influential" without providing any evidence other than, ummm, none, proves that point.

What "evidence" do you want?

This is like trying to argue about something when a person is insisting black is orange.

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Well, lunatic that I am, I have. And I don't think an answer that says Julia was "clearly far more influential" without providing any evidence other than, ummm, none, proves that point.

I'm not seeing any evidence form you that AW was more influential, wasn't that just your opinion?

I am not sure how anyone would think AW was as widely influential as Julia Child was, perhaps we could compare their Q ratings. But if you can't agree JC was a chef, even though she does fit the standard defiition, it becomes a moot point.

Edited by butterscotch (log)
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The definition of a chef per Wiki:

The word "chef" is borrowed (and shortened) from the French term chef de cuisine, the director or head of a kitchen.

Per Merriam-Webster

a skilled cook who manages the kitchen (as of a restaurant)

Per Answers.com:

Chief cook in a restaurant or hotel, usually responsible for planning menus, ordering food, overseeing food preparation, and supervising the kitchen staff.

Now don't get me wrong; I love Julia (don't we all?). But she was not a chef according to its definition. Just like people working the line aren't chefs; they're cooks.

So while Julia may have inspired a generation of home cooks, I don't think she was the reason women started going to culinary school to learn how to become chefs.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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. . . . So while Julia amy have inspired a generation of home cooks, I don't think she was the reason women started going to culinary school to learn how to become chefs.

She might have done, even if it wasn't directly; I think women who were confident of their ability to cook (not to mention their daughters) would be more likely to consider training as chefs, going to culinary school. I'd argue that, ultimately, Julia Child was most significant as a teacher, and teachers often inspire their students to pursue what they're teaching, rather than their profession (of teacher).

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Interesting you skipped over the first line in Wiki:

A chef is a person who cooks professionally for other people. Although over time the term has come to describe any person who cooks for a living, traditionally it refers to a highly skilled professional who is proficient in all aspects of food preparation.

The definition of a chef per Wiki:

The word "chef" is borrowed (and shortened) from the French term chef de cuisine, the director or head of a kitchen.

Per Merriam-Webster

So according to most definitons, it is someone who managed a kitchen professionally Did Julia not manage her kitchen, which is now in the Smithsonian in a brilliant and professional manner? And do you really think people who watched her didn;t realize she had made a brilliant career in food- seriously? It was kind of obvious that she was a serious pro and not a home maker. Just a woman's point of view.

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Why would there be only one "ground breaker"? There have always been trailblazers in industries or professions; Alice had to have gotten her start somewhere too. I think there is also a regional factor to consider (how far-reaching is someone who is a local celebrity versus a name with national recognition).

Maybe it's not a "who" that made it possible, but a "what" - changes in society that made cooking seem a glamorous career choice, for example. The wave that's cresting at the shore started deep in the sea and traveled a long way to there...

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Now don't get me wrong; I love Julia (don't we all?). But she was not a chef according to its definition. Just like people working the line aren't chefs; they're cooks.

So while Julia may have inspired a generation of home cooks, I don't think she was the reason women started going to culinary school to learn how to become chefs.

she was one of the primary inspirations for me when i went to culinary school (at age 40), and one of the reasons i elected to become a ccp (certified culinary professional). she was a big proponent of that designation, awarded by iacp (international association of culinary professionals).

she may not have liked the term "chef" applied to her, but she accepted the role of culinary professional with pleasure. and she was a great mentor to women in the field, including many chefs.

"Laughter is brightest where food is best."

www.chezcherie.com

Author of The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook ,The I Love Trader Joe's Party Cookbook and The I Love Trader Joe's Around the World Cookbook

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