Breasts in the Kitchen

March 16, 2011 § 5 Comments

I am, to put it politely, well-endowed. Busty. I have Huge Tracts of Land. I actually get the reaction, when I mention my cup size, “They make bras that big?” And let me tell you, they are a pain in the neck. And back. And shoulders. And themselves. Especially in the kitchen.

For one thing, they’re in the damn way. Even wearing a minimizing bra, reaching across my body is significantly more difficult than it is for a man or a smaller-breasted woman. The classic elbows-in default posture of the cook is essentially impossible for me. I have more than once burned myself because my tits were in my way, and have, many times, knocked things over with them.

I was once in the prep kitchen, steadily chopping away, standing next to a pair of (male, of course) sous chefs chatting about jock itch and how they dealt with it, whether or not to powder, what kinds of underwear helped most. (I’m unsure to this day whether to be bothered by the fact that they thought this was appropriate to discuss in front of me or pleased that they counted me as “one of the guys” enough to do so. The kitchen is pretty much the only place I’d take the second as a good thing.) I considered jumping in to tell them that I regularly had problems with bra itch, no matter how much powder I used, and despite my wicking-fabric sports bras. I didn’t. Too embarrassing.

Oh, and let me tell you, finding a bra that provides enough support, minimizes my profile, wicks away sweat, and isn’t actively painful or uncomfortable is . . . well, quite the challenge. I have to keep not just multiple bras but multiple models on hand to account for the day by day changes in size and sensitivity. And they are not fucking cheap.

This shit is, of course, only one of the many reasons I’m not fond of my breasts. I’m not even going to discuss the social issues of having large breasts in the kitchen. I mostly avoid them through minimizing bras and having a lot of belly fat, which definitely decreases how obvious they are.

One of these days, I’m going to get around to having a breast reduction. When I have insurance, when I can afford it, when I can afford to take the time off, when I’m sure I’m not going to have any/any more babies. Until then, I have to cope.

Men of Anger

January 19, 2011 § 8 Comments

“We’re all the same, the Men of Anger and the Women of the Page.” -“Virginia Woolf” by Emily Saliers

I was listening to this song, over and over, when I decided to start this blog. This line, in particular, always sticks with me.

My namesake called them The Professors in A Room of One’s Own. The equivalent in kitchens are what one of my chefs in school used to call Certified Screamers. But I think Emily’s description is pretty accurate: The Men of Anger.

A while back, a blogger I read made a brief, inconsequential post about Gordon Ramsay and his show Hell’s Kitchen. He clearly enjoyed the program, and just wanted a bit of banter about the reactions of the contestants when they came up for dismissal. It could have been an interesting topic, I guess, if I were interested in talking about what makes for good TV. But all I could think to say was, “Fuck Ramsay.”

And of course, some goddamn male cook had to jump to his defense and say he’s a genius, and talk about how that behavior is perfectly normal, and what kind of kitchens had I been working in that I didn’t think so. I, relatively patiently, explained that it’s not a matter of whether or not it’s normal, but of whether or not it’s acceptable, and that I am pretty firmly in the NOT camp.

What it is, is abusive.

How many professions are left where that’s acceptable behavior?

A few, I’m told. But generally it’s unprofessional behavior. There are few offices in which that shit will fly.

Because here’s what we’re talking about. Ramsay yells and screams at them, insults them, and curses at them. He throws their food in the garbage. Marco Pierre White, Ramsay’s former mentor, once actually cut open the back of a cook’s jacket and trousers with a paring knife because the man complained of the heat. (White is also known for racist language, and for having made Ramsay cry. And for being an amazing chef, but if he wasn’t, what would be the point in bringing him up?)

Contestants on Ramsay’s show break down crying, scream back at him, threaten him with cutlery, and generally react badly. Some people attribute the depression that led one of his contestants, Rachel Brown, to kill herself to her time on his show. And, as that male cook said, this is not just on TV. This happens in real, professional kitchens.

Why the fuck is this considered OK in kitchens? Why the fuck do we put up with it? Why does anyone put up with it?

Yes, yes, I get where it comes from. It comes from the military manner in which professional kitchens have been run for a century or so now. It comes from the current trend of casting chefs as artists instead of managers, and from the notion of “artistic temperament” — a pretty, romantic euphemism for an ugly and unbridled temper — being something people should just put up with as the price of genius. It comes from a culture of adrenalin highs and extreme behaviors and bigotry. It comes from the idea that because professional cooking is a difficult, physically taxing and stressful job, you must be tough enough to endure anything.

It is complete and utter bullshit. Abuse does not make for a tighter, more efficient crew. It breeds resentment and hatred, drives out talented and skilled cooks before they can achieve their full potential, and creates fear, none of which is good for creativity or precision.

I have now fired two kitchen managers for (milder versions of) this kind of behavior. It made for a terrible work environment, not just for the kitchen staff, but for everyone. A chef who treats their cooks that way will also treat front of house staff, managers and owners that way.

I’m asking you not to support this behavior. Don’t watch the shows of celebrity chefs who behave this way. If you’re in the industry, refuse to work for or with abusive chefs. If you’re a restauranteur, refuse to employ them. All of you, refuse to patronize restaurants with abusive chefs. And all of you, tell people why. As long as we put up with and reinforce this behavior, it will continue to be accepted and even encouraged. Help me make it unacceptable. Please. If you don’t support abuse in your personal life, don’t support it in your professional life, and don’t support it as a consumer.

Abuse is never ok.

This post has taken me more than two months to complete. I simply could not focus on the topic. It’s too upsetting, and was too close to home as I dealt with a kitchen manager who felt free to vent her anger on everyone at my restaurant. The righteous fury I felt when I began this piece faded to pain and weariness and sorrow. What began with a backlash ended with a plea.

What I have asked you to do is the only thing I can think of to fight the pervasiveness of this behavior. The abuse continues because it is accepted, and even rewarded. Most people are not in a position to prevent it, but they are in a position to refuse to accept or reward it.

Three and a Half Chefs

January 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

My little restaurant had its first anniversary just recently. So many regulars and friends came in. It was a beautiful thing. For six hours, we were packed to the rafters. The kitchen ran smoothly, the staff were enjoying themselves, the guests were delighted. A fine time was had by all. It was fantastic. One of those perfect moments of restauranting that reminds me of why the hell I got into this ridiculous project to begin with.

And then the next night was one of the worst nights at work I’d had in the entire first year. Easily in the top ten, probably in the top five.

New Year’s Eve. We knew it was going to get super busy as soon as the bars closed. There aren’t a whole lot of places in the city open that late, and most of the others are crap. So the kitchen was supposed to be well-stocked and prepped by the kitchen manager early on. She had dinner shift, along with one prep cook. Now, this prep cook is notoriously lazy, and will do scant and/or shoddy work if a close eye isn’t kept on him. We’ve only kept him this long because he shows up reliably, and there’s usually someone around who’s a bigger problem. The kitchen manager was the bigger problem just then. I’d promoted her to the position after the fiasco following the previous incumbent, because she asked for it, because she insisted she could do it, because she wanted it badly, because I was in a bad position, because I liked her. At first, she did pretty well. I was proud of her for stepping up, for getting a handle on her temper, for taking responsibility. We started her on just the basics of kitchen management, but as we slowly started adding her other responsibilities, she went to pieces. She didn’t sleep for days at a time, she’d start screaming at her staff, or at the general manager, she’d break down crying, she wouldn’t come in when she was supposed to, her ordering was a mess, she wouldn’t cover for her cooks. It was rapidly falling apart. So I sat her down and talked to her, and gave her one more chance, and she started to improve. Really. She was doing a lot better.

And then there was NYE.

The prep list was written on the chalk board, and all crossed off. Everyone knew she’d been on that evening, so apparently the incoming people hadn’t bothered to actually eyeball the prep and make sure it was solid. She went home around 12:30, telling her cooks that she was just five minutes away, and if they needed her, they should call.

An hour later, the cooks came to tell me and the GM that there wasn’t enough prep done. I wound up in the kitchen in a semi-formal gown (I hardly ever get all dressed up, but when I do, I do it right) cutting sweet potato fries and cursing. As I headed into the kitchen, I heard one of the cooks calling the kitchen manager and asking her to come in. He reported that she’d be there in 5. Twenty minutes later, she called to tell me that she couldn’t come in. I think she started to give me some explanation, but I cut her off, I was too busy and it was too noisy and I had to go.

We got slammed only minutes after I stepped up to the cutting board, and the kitchen crashed completely. Forty-five minute ticket times, running out of things left and right, drunk asshole customers (who, yes, my staff do not have to put up with, and they tossed out at least two that night), perfectly nice customers giving up on their orders and leaving, fucking everything. I had to tell the servers to stop taking orders to give the cooks time to clear the rail and get prepped up for breakfast. It was an absolute nightmare for me, and once there was no more I could physically do at the moment, I went back to my office and cried.

I had to fire the kitchen manager the next day. There just wasn’t any way around it. I hated to, because I like her, but she took it pretty well. She knew she’d fucked up.

I promoted another cook to the position promptly. This one is older than the last, although still young (cooking is a young person’s game), but she has management experience, she’s on good terms with but not too close to the rest of the staff, and she’s got good solid ideas and a good grasp of what the job is. I have high hopes for her.

But goddamnit, I had three and a half chefs/kitchen managers in my first year, and my fourth-and-a-halfth two days into my second. I know restaurant turnover is high, but this is ridiculous.

The first I’ve mentioned before. She thought that the correct way to run a kitchen was to terrorize her entire staff. She was a friend from culinary school, young for the job, but she’d been a sous before, and wow, could she cook. What she could not do was deal with people. She desperately wanted my little bitty all-night comfort food place to be a high-end, expensive, rarefied sort of place. She didn’t want to allow alterations or special orders, didn’t want to put condiments on her burgers, didn’t want to present her very tasty matzo ball soup in a way that kept it warm for more than two minutes, didn’t want to follow a budget, didn’t want to get her food costs below 30%. She thought it should all be her way. She didn’t understand that I was her boss. We had, I swear I timed this, and hour and a half argument about a fucking salad. The staff was always coming to me with complaints, the GM (to whom the chef had introduced me, and who was a close friend of hers) was always coming to me with complaints, the customers came to me with complaints. I think I finally fired her over the $150 worth of very very nice locally-grown organic potatoes she allowed to rot, and tried to tell me I shouldn’t be mad at her about.

We went without a kitchen manager for a bit after that. I did a bunch of it myself, and various cooks stepped up and did other bits. After a month and a half, it got to be too much, and I placed an ad. The candidates were pretty abysmal, but I hired the best of the lot and went with it.

The new guy never did fit in. His food was a mess, his menus looked awful, his “jokes” made people wildly uncomfortable, he wouldn’t put in overtime (which is why you get a salary in a restaurant, to avoid having to pay overtime), he wouldn’t help his staff. He resigned about forty-eight hours before I was planning to fire him.

Just before he gave notice, I got a text from a friend I hadn’t heard from in months. He was the only friend I’d made at my last job, he’d been a chef, he was a really great guy, and he wanted to know if I had a job open. Oh boy, did I.

Right around then, the kitchen manager I started out this post talking about told me she wanted the job. I told her I needed to at least try to get someone in with management experience, and I had a candidate, but if that didn’t work, she could give it a shot.

(Yeesh, this gets complicated without names. Next time, pseudonyms.)

My friend came in and we talked terms, came to an agreement, and he gave notice at the place he’d been working and gave me a start date. He met the staff (who liked him) and gave me a sample menu. And then, a week from his start date, he vanished. (This is why he’s the half: I hired him, but he never started.) Didn’t respond to phone or email, never got back in touch. As far as we can tell, he decided to stay at his old job and couldn’t face telling me. Six months later, I still have not heard from him.

So I gave that last young lady her chance, bringing me back to the beginning of my tale.

Of the five people I’ve hired to run my goddamn kitchen, there have been three women and two men. Two women and one man did terrible jobs, one man failed to show up, and one woman has yet to prove herself. Restaurants have high turnover, sure, but this is ridiculous.

I keep wondering how much of it is my fault.

So, you’re in pastry, right?

September 29, 2010 § 22 Comments

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it.

“So, you’re in pastry, right?”

I’m a woman, so of course I’m in pastry. I heard it all through culinary school, I’ve heard it in restaurants, I’ve heard it from total strangers I meet out and about. It’s pretty tiresome.

I suppose every industry has its own version of it. A blue-haired friend of mine who’s a software engineer tells me that what she always gets is, “You’re in marketing, right?”

But in kitchens, it’s pastry.

Pastry is sweet and sugary and dainty and cute, so of course it’s women’s business.

Women in pastry don’t have to conform to the hypermasculine culture of the line cooks, but on the other hand, this makes the “dough bitches” easily dismissed by the rest of the kitchen. They don’t come in for the hazing and the harassment, but they don’t get taken seriously, either. What they do get, again and again, is having to listen to the same “jokes” and “banter” that women on the line do, plus a line of shit about how useless and girly their work is. They also have to put up with the line cooks stealing their prep and ingredients, because, hey, patisserie doesn’t matter, they can remake it, it’s no big deal.

Feminists and sociologists have long discussed how the marketing and consumption of food is highly gendered. And it is, very much so. What most people outside the industry don’t necessarily realize is that preparation and style of food is also highly gendered.

Haute cuisine is masculine. Comfort food is feminine. Molecular gastronomy is masculine. Pastry is feminine. BBQ is masculine, spicy food is masculine, anything with big, bold flavors and cutting edge styling is masculine. Soups and stews and pot roasts and, ahem, pies — homestyle food — are feminine.

Last year, the Astor Food and Wine Center in Manhattan hosted a panel on the differences between male and female chefs. The four panelists each tried five courses consisting of two paired dishes featuring the same main ingredient, one prepared by a woman and one by a man. The panelists then tried to determine which dish was which. Unsurprisingly, they found no significant differences, and got it wrong as often as they got it right.

But the panelists did list some of their preconceived notions and cliches, including:

  • Women chefs use spices more subtly than men
  • Male chefs love to make use of lots of toys in their cooking (look out, Grant Achatz)
  • Female chefs cook to nurture and feed people’s souls, while male chefs cook to compete and impress
  • Women chefs are more likely to cook soulful “grandmere-style” food than their male counterparts, who are much more likely to be into dazzling, technique-driven cooking
  • Male chefs like to cook red meat; women chefs are much more likely to cook pink food and use edible flowers
  • Women chefs are more precise. They follow instructions more carefully than men do
  • Women chefs’ food is more subtle and sophisticated, while their male counterparts cook gutsier, deep-flavored, testosterone-driven food
  • Women chefs cook with their hearts and souls, while male chefs cook with their head and their private parts

Men cook with their private parts? What, are they stirring the sauces with their dicks? Remind me never to eat in a restaurant with a male chef again. And what in the fuck is “testosterone-driven food”? Are we talking Rocky Mountain Oysters here, or are they infusing androgens into the steak, or what? What the fuck does any of this shit mean?

The one stereotype I’ll address is the notion that women chefs are “more precise” and “follow instructions more carefully.” You know why that one exists? Because women have to be more precise to survive in the male-dominated kitchen. We have to be twice as good as the men to get half the recognition — same old story, familiar to women in every field.

The piece on this event I linked above — a summary by one of the panelists, Ed Levine of SeriousEats — after admitting that no one on the panel could consistently identify any dishes as made by a man or a woman, after admitting that “it’s impossible to glean by looking and tasting whether a dish was created by a man or a woman,” after admitting that mentors matter more than gender, that all the chefs were “influenced and inspired by family members of both sexes,” still insists that cooking style is a function of gender as well as experience and personality, that gender “certainly affects how chefs cook,” even though “neither the chefs nor the panelists could articulate how and why exactly.”

Fucking gender essentialist bullshit. What the fuck? What from that panel led them to think that gender had anything to do with how chefs cooks? Nothing. Only stereotypes and preconceptions.

Women get shut out of restaurants with “male” cuisines, even more than other restaurants, and other women cooks norm the same stereotypes that the men do. From this interview with seven women chefs, which I’ve linked to before:

Do women and men cook differently?
SJ: I think women cook different food, and I think women cook better food. It’s more from the heart and more from the soul. I look at this whole molecular-gastronomy thing, and I’m like, “Boys with toys.” They’re just fascinated with technology and chemistry sets. I think we make better-tasting food. I’m sorry, I know that’s politically incorrect.
RC: I have to agree. Women’s food is, for the most part, more accessible, it’s easier to understand, it’s friendlier, it’s more comforting, and it doesn’t get bogged down in all these nutty freaking trends.
SJ: I find there’s a lot of technique in male food.
AB: I have a friend from England who’s a cook, and he said the food that’s most moved him has always been cooked by a woman. Maybe because it’s comfort food or it’s very nurturing.
JW: Or maybe he just liked the idea of a woman cooking for him.

When everyone is feeding you the same line of shit, it’s hard not to believe it. The few of us who disagree, who want to play with the “boys’ toys,” who’re into the techniques and the equipment and the cutting-edge shit, we’re often outsiders even within the much-othered group of women cooks and chefs. If you can’t fit in with anybody, the men or the women, kitchen life gets even harder.

And still the question echoes, from the mouths of men and women alike: So, you’re in pastry, right?

But I’m not, and I never have been, and I never will be. And I will cook any damned way I please.

Why is the kitchen so sexist?

September 26, 2010 § 10 Comments

So Ginny, just why is the professional kitchen so sexist?

Once upon a time, professional kitchens were the demesne of men merely because they were professional, and only men were professionals. King Louis XV of France had vehemently opposed the idea that women could cook fine cuisine, and the world had generally agreed. The hierarchy of the kitchen — the brigade de cuisine or kitchen brigade — was based on the command structure of Army cooks, modified and first set in place in the Savoy Hotel kitchens by Georges Auguste Escoffier. Escoffier based his brigade on the structures he experienced while in the Army during the Franco-Prussian War.

The hours were long, the work was messy and physically demanding, the cooks were working-class, and the discipline was harsh. It was not unlike being in the infantry. Except, of course, that the work they were doing, if done in a home, was women’s work.

And that does seem to be the crux of it. Other professions where men have traditionally dominated have improved far more than mine. The sciences, technology, math, engineering: these are all still difficult fields for women, but are no longer places where a woman’s workspace is likely to be covered in porn, or where blatant sexual harassment — grab-assing and open slut shaming — are tolerated (usually). Percents of women in leading positions (professors in the sciences and maths, chefs in cooking) are comparable, running roughly 9-10% women in both (cite 1, cite 2), but STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields have actively and collectively been working on the problem for longer, and so the improvements have been greater. But other male-dominated professions aren’t “women’s work” in another context, and I, like many cooks and chefs of both genders, can’t help but think that it’s related.

Oh, there are lots of other contributing factors. It doesn’t help that kitchen work (especially at the lower levels) is a popular choice for recent immigrants from countries with cultures even stricter sex segregation and greater misogyny than the US has. It doesn’t help that cooking is still generally considered to be vocational work rather than professional (although chefs are starting to be an exception), and so different standards of behavior apply. It doesn’t help that the popular media continues to focus on male chefs, or depict women as home cooks (think about how Rachael Ray is presented as opposed to Gordon Ramsey). It doesn’t help that the stereotype is that men are bolder, more experimental, more exacting with food, while women prefer to cook nourishing or comforting food.

But the general consensus is that male cooks have to be ultra-masculine because they’re cooks, and cooking is women’s work. Which means that women cooks do, too.

Is the general consensus true? Fuck if I know, but it comes up in pretty much every conversation on the topic, and is frequently asserted boldly by those who have no kitchen experience and who think it’s an original idea as well as by those who have been in the industry for years. Even bastions of the Old Boys Club subscribe to this hypothesis. But it’s not like we can know for sure.


September 20, 2010 § 19 Comments

While I was considering starting this blog, I asked my kitchen manager (a woman in her mid-twenties) if she considered herself a feminist. She thought for a second, and then said, “Well, I guess so. I mean, I certainly believe a woman can do anything a man can, aside from the physical limits some women have. And we should absolutely have all the same legal rights.” (Ok, she rambled a little more than that, and talked about women bodybuilders, but she was just off a long shift and had maybe had a couple of glasses of wine.) Then she pulled out the copy of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential she was reading and showed me a couple of paragraphs. This is the one she had me start with:

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some really studly women line cooks — no weak reeds these. One woman, Sharon, managed to hold down a busy saute station while seven months pregnant — and still find time to provide advice and comfort to a romantically unhappy broiler man. A long-time associate, Beth, who likes to refer to herself as the “Grill Bitch,” excelled at putting loudmouths and fools in their proper place. She refused to behave any differently than her male coworkers:she’d change in the same locker area, dropping her pants right alongside them. She was as sexually aggressive, and as vocal about it, as her fellow cooks, but unlikely to to suffer behavior she found demeaning. One sorry Moroccan cook who pinched her ass found himself suddenly bent over a cutting board with Beth dry-humping him from behind, saying, “How do you like it, bitch?” The guy almost died of shame — and never repeated that mistake again.

I found myself torn between fuckyeahwomancooks! and tears. Glancing up, the previous, introductory, paragraph describes a “tough-as-nails, foul-mouther, trash-talking female line cook” as “a true joy” and “a civilizing factor” in kitchens, “where conversation tends to center around who’s got the bigger balls and who takes it in the ass.”

Oh, god. Ogodogodogod. Right. There was a reason why I never read this book, even though I enjoy Bourdain’s TV shows. I may puke.

Oh, goody, the next paragraph has even more sexual harassment!

Another female line cook I had the pleasure of working with arrived at work one morning to find that an Ecuadorian pasta cook had decorated her station with some particularly ugly hard-core pornography of pimply assed women getting penetrated in every orifice by potbellied guys with prison tattoos and back hair. She didn’t react at all, but a little later, while passing through the pasta man’s station, casually remarked, “Jose, I see you brought in some photos of the family. Mom looks good for her age.”

This is what my kitchen manager thinks feminism is. Oh, hell. Oh, spite. This is what she thinks of when I ask her if she’s a feminist. I despair. How the fuck am I ever supposed to make even a small change in kitchen culture if this is how the women here think. Oh, god.

Right. Well, this is why Shakesville talks about teaspoons against the sea. The point of this blog is to be one more teaspoonful taken out with every post. Time to break it down.

First, and most obviously, women have to act just as tough, gross, sexist, racist, homophobic, and generally bigoted and awful as the men in the kitchen do, to prove that they are good enough to work in the manly environment of the kitchen. If you don’t act like that, you won’t last long. Oh, nobody will tell you that’s the problem . . . but you’ll either be harassed into quitting, or some excuse found to fire you (or, in a “right to work” state, no excuse at all, just a dismissal).

And yet, women are still expected to be nurturing, caring, soothing, “civilizing.” They have to be as nasty as the men — but still be kind and caring and behave in traditionally feminine ways, ways that generally require them to take care of men. Wow, that looks like a familiar Catch 22.

Women are expected, required even, to ignore really horrifying sexual harassment of kinds that in most professional settings in the US would result in an instant lawsuit or the firing of the harasser. Instead, in the kitchen industry, the woman would at least be told to toughen up, that everybody puts up with that kind of shit, it’s just a joke; very possibly she’d be fired for not “fitting in” with the kitchen crew. Yeah, I know, reporting and suing (well, successfully) for most sexual harassment in most professions is pretty tough — but in most professions, harassers have gotten more subtle and sneaky about it. Hard-core porn all over someone else’s desk is a firing offense in most office settings. I’m not trying to belittle the harassment women have to tolerate in office settings — I’ve been there, and it can be just as awful, hell, more so, depending on the person and the circumstance, and it is just as wrong. What I am saying is that things which are generally Unacceptable in most professional settings are still accepted in kitchens.

Women are also expected to take part in active misogyny: to refer to men and other women, and even themselves, as bitches; to deal yo mama insults; to deplore weakness, weeping, and other “girl” faults; to make and laugh at rag jokes, rape jokes, and a host of other jokes relying on the revilement of women. Not just tolerate it from the men, but actively take part in it.

Women gain extra points for being as sexually aggressive as male cooks, and as vocal about it. Not just as aggressive, but aggressive in the same way. There’s a lot of debate in the feminist blogosphere as to whether and what kind of sexual assertiveness is empowering or positive for women and feminists — I come down firmly on the Proud Slut side of the argument, myself — but again, it’s an example of women having to act just like the men around them in order to be accepted. And just imagine, for one moment, being a sexually aggressive lesbian cook in this kind of environment (yeah, most of the homophobia is directed at gay men). . . . It’s just one more component of how working in a professional kitchen requires women to act like the men around them, and doesn’t allow for women who can’t or won’t act that way.

Oh, and of course, these “studly” women are “no weak reeds” — imply that any and all women who don’t act just like the men around them are weak. Fuck you, Anthony Bourdain.

I’m scooting right past the racism (notice how Bourdain makes a point of mentioning the origins of the cooks who harassed the women he’s talking about?) and most of the homophobia here. I’m definitely planning posts on both of these, and on other isms and bigotries, and on intersectionality, but I just don’t have the heart to delve into them in this post. Not ignoring, them, though.

I live and work in a very different city than Bourdain writes about (his career has mostly been in NYC), and the kitchen culture out here is not this vile. I could never work in a kitchen in New York, nor most of the Northeast, nor most of the Eastern Seaboard. The kitchen culture out here may not be as bad, but all of these elements are here, they’re just not as extreme. I’ve never worked in a kitchen where someone who left hard core porn all over another cook’s station wasn’t likely to get fired. I never would. But it doesn’t mean that we aren’t expected to put up with a lot more than women working in offices around here are. It’s hard. It’s hard for me to see and tolerate even the more mild echoes of this kind of misogyny that we experience here. But to get to where I am, I had to work in other people’s kitchens, and that meant having to put up with it. And now that I have my own kitchen, I still have to put up with some of it, because I have to employ at least some cooks with experience in other kitchens, and they’re all acclimated to it and want to perpetuate it. I can forbid the worst of it, but not everything. Since none of my cooks see any problem with the way things are, why would they want anybody to act any differently?

Teaspoons against the sea. *sigh*

Definition of Chef and Other Terms

September 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

Definition of Chef and Other Terms

For the record, I’m not planning on doing Feminism 101 here. If people start asking questions, I’ll probably provide a few links, but this is at least an intermediate-level feminism space.

However, it occurs to me that some people could probably use a little Restaurant 101. There’s a lot of confusion out there about certain terms, especially the term chef, and it’s moderately important that people understand exactly what I’m talking about here.

So. A chef is:

1) Someone who manages the day-to-day operations of a professional kitchen of a certain size and quality. The specific size and quality is up for a lot of debate, but generally a chef has several cooks working under her direction, and generally the restaurant is casual-to-fine dining, a sit down restaurant with multiple courses on the menu.

2) Someone who directs and manages multiple chefs for multiple restaurants (sometimes called an executive or corporate chef, depending on various factors; an executive chef can also be the head chef of a very large brigade-style kitchen that has multiple chefs de partie or section chefs).

3) A Certified Master Chef, Certified Executive Chef, or person with another title granted by a professional organization such as the American Culinary Federation. Such certifications standardly involve actually working as a chef in one or both of the first two capacities.

4) A Chef-Instructor at a culinary school.

5) A personal chef employed by a private individual to cook for them on a professional basis.

6) Someone who has done one of the above jobs for a really really long time and continues to be addressed by the title out of respect after retirement.

A chef is NOT:

1) Any professional cook at all.

2) Any graduate of a culinary school at all.

3) Any home cook.

The word chef is a loan from French, and just means “boss.” It’s a cognate of chief. You can’t be a chef if you’re not and have not been in charge of something. Chef is a professional title, like Professor or (civilian) Captain. You get the title Chef because you’re doing the job of a Chef.

Other terms of importance:

Kitchen manager: Essentially the same job as a chef, only in a smaller and/or less fancy place. (The woman who runs my kitchen has the title of Kitchen Manager.)

Sous chef: Literally “under boss,” the sous chef, or just sous, is the chef’s lieutenant, her second-in-command, her assistant manager.

Cook: In this context, a professional, someone who cooks as their job and plans to continue to do so.

Chef de partie: The boss of a part or department of a very large kitchen, such as the chief saucier, the head pastry chef, etc.

Brigade kitchen: *sigh* OK, minor history lesson. The profession of cooking as it exists today in the Western world was greatly influenced by Georges Auguste Escoffier, a French chef (both in nationality and style) who popularized and updated French fine dining cooking methods in the early part of the 20th century. He also organized his kitchen along a plan now known as the Brigade, which broke down a large hotel kitchen into departments based on the type of food and methodology it focused on. This system includes an Executive Chef or Chef de Cuisine who oversees all departments, a Sous-chef de cuisine who assists him, a number of chefs de partie, cuisiniers (cooks) who work under the chefs de partie, and several other lesser designations. Only the largest kitchens actually use this system today, but it has given us a number of terms still in use in smaller kitchens. (Most of which I can still recite. This shit was on our exams in culinary school, despite the fact that few if any of us were ever going to work in a brigade kitchen.)

Now, when I’m talking about the jobs it’s difficult for woman to get, I’m talking about chef, executive chef, senior cook in a good restaurant (as opposed to, say, fast food or pizza or something), hell, even sometimes a very junior position can be hard to get.

I am not, in fact, a chef. I am a restaurant owner, a restauranteur. But I don’t run the kitchen myself (although I make decisions about how it’s run), and rarely cook.

Hope that clears up some things.

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