“Women belong in the kitchen”
“Professional kitchens are not the place for women”
I’ve come into contact with this paradox time and again during my time as a wannabe chef and it never fails to make me laugh. This idea that women ought to cook for their families but doing so for payment is somehow outside of our range is laughable. I would be hard put to find a chef who’s upbringing and path to cooking was not brokered by some woman in his/her life. In fact, as I’ve previously stated, many chefs start out because they want to bring their mother’s food to the masses; and yet, that is something impossible for their mother to do.
I think of one of my favorite movies, Pixar’s Ratatouille, in which a whole rat is able to become a head chef faster than a woman (I still love you Remy). In one of Colette’s excellent monologues she delineates the ideology of the world she has clawed her way into. She states, “You think cooking is a cute job, eh? Like Mommy in the kitchen? Well, Mommy never had to face the dinner rush when the orders come flooding in, and every dish is different and none are simple, and all of the different cooking times, but must arrive at the customer’s table at exactly the same time, hot and perfect! Every second counts, you CANNOT be MOMMY!” but who ever let mommy attempt the dinner rush? Colette, while lovely, here completely embodies the paradox built by her (most likely male) writers. That mommy’s cooking, which launched the culture and created the culinary world, somehow does not measure up to its child.
In fact, Ratatouille’s premise that anyone can cook (believe me I know its a Pixar film and must be whimsical and lovely) completely steps over populations that can but are not allowed to cook. Later in the film, Colette asks Linguini if he sees any other women in the kitchen and why that is. In response to her own question she claims, “Because haute cuisine is an antiquated hierarchy built upon rules written by stupid, old, *men*. Rules designed to make it impossible for women to enter this world”. In both of these monologues Colette manages to outline the gendered cooking paradox and also show her own part in it. She has had to take on the same slights towards “mommy” in order to be grouped in with the male chefs who no doubt learned from their mommies. It is constantly presented as though being a woman is immediately inferior to being a man in the kitchen. She is not mommy, she is the toughest cook in the kitchen, but who said mommy’s not tough?
The paradox also works in the opposite direction. Watch any episode of Chopped or pay attention to any celebrity wife and you will see that people quickly claim that the caterers or home chefs are “not real chefs” (I myself have been in this camp from time to time, but hey nobody’s perfect). These women are often discounted as, again, they’re not working the dinner shift. Yet, they are an integral part of the culinary world. Julia Child never owned a restaurant and she is one of the most influential American chefs ever and changed how we eat and what we prepare. Her cookbook partners were not restaurant owners, instead they were women who had a passion for food. Why is it that women’s accomplishments in the field are not appreciated until they ascribe to men’s measurement (capitalism)? Julia Child will always be considered an outlier, yet there are hundreds of home chefs changing the culinary world by maintaining tradition and writing about their experiences. Cuisines from around the world have not become an offensive goulash because women have passed the baton from generation to generation and kept family recipes intact. Girls, even in 2018, are often pulled into the kitchen far prior to their male counterparts. Think of how many men you met in college who didn’t know how to fry an egg, now think of how many women that can be said of. All of this priming, unfortunately patriarchal in nature, would seem as though it is preparing women for at least a lucrative career in cuisine. WRONG. It is indeed just preparation to be “a good wife” because anything lucrative ought to be left to men. (I hope you all can tell just how much sarcasm I seasoned this sentence with).
Let us not forget that the culinary world as it stands was built by women. Mothers cooking for their children in a certain region with what was available to them and eventually creating culinary cultures out of their shared recipes. The only reason the title was stripped from women’s hands is because men found out cooking could be profitable, and women were not supposed to be financially independent *rolls eyes*. The most prevalent cooking cultures in American society today are black-American and Mexican-American cuisine, two cultures greatly influenced by women’s hand in the kitchen and yet little to no female representation in the American culinary capitalism machine. While this is all very reflective of other social standings that I won’t address on this blog, I have to ask how we received the culture from a group that we now insist on shutting out? Without women, you wouldn’t be born and your plate would be empty too. Because Colette was right, not everyone can be mommy, but its clear that every great chef wants to be.
Be good and respect your foremothers, Piggies.