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Did Alice Waters Make it Okay for Female Chefs?


weinoo
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Whether or not Julia Child was a "chef," I think she inspired a lot of culinary professionals. I'm pretty certain no other figure is as beloved around here as she is.

Alice Waters is a more divisive figure. Whether her influence has been all to the good or not is beside the point. The OP asks if she made it "okay" for women to become chefs.

So I'm requesting clarification. Was it not okay for women to become chefs before Waters became a food celebrity? Does this question mean there were few women in professional kitchens or that there was a "glass ceiling" that didn't allow women to rise to the position of chef?

In other words, is the OP asking if Waters inspired women to go into restaurant kitchens or that she forced restaurant managers to overcome their prejudice against female chefs?

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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Dakki, good point. Debating if we deign call Julia Child a chef is best done over a bottle of wine.

Going back to the question: No, I don't think it was Alice Waters who made it OK to go into the professional restaurant kitchen in the US. She's looked upon as a role model for eating locally, seasonally, gardening, not for leading the charge into culinary school.

I'm reading The Unprejudiced Palate right now & Pelligrini goes off on long, respectful riffs about the role of woman in the kitchen. And now reading this, it has me wondering, if there is a very fundamental difference is the way the sexes approach food and cooking.

To my mind, AW is more of a role model for good eating. JC is more of a role model for cooking and eating well. Tom Keller, Grant, Adria are role models for showpiece cooking. Each has their place, their value and their importance. I would argue that women approach food from a more nurturing perspective then men. No value judgement, just idle Sunday morning musings.

(And ChezCherie, CCP.. greetings from a fellow IACP'er!)

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So I'm requesting clarification. Was it not okay for women to become chefs before Waters became a food celebrity? Does this question mean there were few women in professional kitchens or that there was a "glass ceiling" that didn't allow women to rise to the position of chef?

In other words, is the OP asking if Waters inspired women to go into restaurant kitchens or that she forced restaurant managers to overcome their prejudice against female chefs?

I think both. How many known restaurant kitchens were being run by women prior to the mid-70's?

What about Rick O'Connell who was exec chef at Rosalie's in SF?

Great chef. Wasn't Rosalie's from the '80's?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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No, I don't think it was Alice Waters who made it OK to go into the professional restaurant kitchen in the US. She's looked upon as a role model for eating locally, seasonally, gardening, not for leading the charge into culinary school.

That's exactly it, I think that both women broke ground in different ways, but both inspired lots of people (and not just women) to think bigger about what they could do in the kitchen- whether it was personally or professionally. Julia was showcasing classic resturant food, while AW was changing the idea of what that food could or should be.

Most chefs who get out there before the public with cookbooks and TV shows do influence home cooks more than they do cause people to get up and start there own resturants or food related businesses. Chefs do not only inspire people to open their own places, their fans are not so literal or narrow as to see that as the only option.

If you want to hold up someone who was very influencial in getting women to start up on their own in food, I know quite a few people (chefs included) who credit Martha Stewart as a huge inspiration. A one time caterer, I believe we would have to admit here she did fit the definition of chef as well, while running her catering kitchen. And she reached probably ten times the audience that Alice Waters ever did. She had a very different audience than AW, and would probably only be a divise pick around here, but to the rest of the world outside EG she was hugely influencial.

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So I'm requesting clarification. Was it not okay for women to become chefs before Waters became a food celebrity? Does this question mean there were few women in professional kitchens or that there was a "glass ceiling" that didn't allow women to rise to the position of chef?

In other words, is the OP asking if Waters inspired women to go into restaurant kitchens or that she forced restaurant managers to overcome their prejudice against female chefs?

I think both. How many known restaurant kitchens were being run by women prior to the mid-70's?

I have no idea. Assuming the question isn't rhetorical, we should find out if there a change before asking if Ms. Waters inspired that change.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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I have problems with premises, or assumptions, here too. Not just in the opening question.

1. "Blah-blah-blah" doesn't speak about Alice Waters. Not only is she constantly mischaracterized these days (by people who don't know the place) as "chef" of the rest't she founded 40 years ago this year, but certainly most of the chefs there in recent decades were men. I saw no one here cite exceptions.

2. It's a telltale of growing mythology (i.e., departure from history) when people mischaracterize, even worse, Julia Child as a "chef," rationalize as they may. JC was a cookbook author (skillfully adapting 10% of the Guide Culinaire repertoire to US kitchens) who made 3? appearances on WGBH-TV specifically to promote the 1961 cookbook. She was entertaining, popular, and eventually did a regular program, The French Chef. That is why everyone knows her name. She was, of course, as everyone knows who is acquainted with her work, neither French nor a chef. She never ran a restaurant kitchen professionally, to my knowledge. "She is not a cook," as someone put it to the Hesses,"but she plays one on TV." That opens their famous or notorious 1997 review in The Nation, "Icon Flambé," of Fitch's JC biography. People with notions of JC as chef need very very badly to read it. (It's an appendix in the paperback reissue of The Taste of America.)

3. "How many known restaurant kitchens were being run by women prior to the mid-70's?"

Known by whom? Europe has ample examples, surprising no one aware that (Hesses again!) cooking's overall history consisted chiefly of women at home inventing something interesting from ingredients the gentry wouldn't touch. Fiction of course has plenty of female chef heroines. Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, Babette's Feast, and Tampopo, each the must-see food movie of its time, all had impressive chef-heroines. Some regions have famous traditions of high-profile kitchens run by women. Burgundy comes right to mind. It has more of a hearty than a "high" cuisine culture, but Wechsberg, the popular food writer of the time, went around interviewing Michelin-starred women chefs there, around 1950. Specialties like Bresse fowls “demi-deuil, which means `half-mourning’ because of the black-and-white effect of the black truffles under the white skin” at Mother Brazier’s near Lyon. Watt, one of the later of the 150 years of both male and female French-cooking popularizers to the US public before JC, wrote a book on the Paris bistros, all of which seemed to have a capable Madame calling the shots in the kitchen, and furnishing the book's exquisite recipes. See also the end of the quirky "Restaurant" article, disdaining the pretense of naming mediocre restaurants after renowned female cooks, in the original English Larousse Gastronomique (Crown, 1961).

Next question, please?

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