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Food by VICE

The Restaurant World Is (Still) Sexist

Time magazine has pissed off the international restaurant world and alienated female chefs in their current issue, "Gods of Food." Chef Margot Henderson calls bullshit. Here's her response to Time, the reality of women in the kitchen, and...

by VICE Staff
Nov 11 2013, 9:45pm

Chef Margot Henderson, pictured above, is sick of the boys club.

Time magazine has pissed off the international restaurant world. They’ve alienated female chefs. Oh wait—they forgot them altogether. The recently released November issue is titled “Gods of Food: Meet the People Who Influence What (and How) You Eat.” A bro-centric series of culinary stories about key influencers in food, the content includes a list of 13 “Gods of Food” (no female chefs made the cut) and a visual “food family tree” of heavy hitters who have pioneered the current restaurant scene. You won’t find ladies in there, either. 

Like a bad train wreck, Time issue editor Howard Chua-Eoan—the dude who edited this entire package—recently engaged in an offensively revealing interview with Eater's Hillary Dixler to explain the sausage-heavy content. When asked about including groundbreaking female chefs to the “family tree” flow chart, Chua-Eoan responded, “the chart came about because men still take care of themselves. The women really need someone—if not men, themselves actually—to sort of take care of each other." The chart failed to include key influencers like Alice Waters, Barbara Lynch, Anita Lo, Elena Arzak, April Bloomfield, Clare Smyth, and Dominique Crenn, for starters. And when it couldn’t get any worse, he added that the Time editors, “did not want to fill a quota of a woman chef just because she's a woman. We wanted to go with reputation and influence." 

The issue and Howard Chua-Eoan’s recent interview are revealing by-products of the pervasive sexism that continues to exist throughout all aspects of the culinary world. Or in the words of New York chef Sarah Jenkins, “the relentless circle jerk between the media, PR agents, and the chefs or countries who employ them than any kind of reflection on what's truly happening out there in the real world.” 

London chef Margot Henderson—chef and co-owner of Rochelle Canteen, and wife of chef Fergus Henderson—decided to call bullshit. Here’s her response to Time, the reality of women in the kitchen, and why she believes media will continue to promote men before women.

David Chang, René Redzepi, and Alex Atala look quite charming on the cover of Time, don’t they? I think that most of these chefs set out to become famous, putting themselves in front of newspapers. I think that women are getting on creating great restaurants, but men feel that they have to change the world. Australian chef Stephanie Alexander has one of the top restaurants in the world. She has now—admittedly—stopped cooking, but the people that she has taught are incredible. Her cookbooks are incredible. That’s the thing: women are better food writers than men, aren’t they [laughs]? And they often stop because they’re so successful and brilliant at writing books when the men aren’t [laughs]. That Time editor… what a wanker? To not even include Alice Waters in this piece? It’s pretty shocking.

If you think about it, women didn’t really start working in kitchens in the culinary world until about fifty years ago. We’ve got women like Angela Hartnett and Joyce Molyneux, one of the first female chefs to win a Michelin star. Angela is one of the chefs that influenced a whole generation of young men who went on to have great careers. Maybe men are better at taking? They recognize the good things that they’re doing and go with it. In all of these media focused articles, they’re often based on geography. Ferran Adrià is an amazing chef who has undoubtedly influenced food in this generation. David Chang is great, and so is René Redzepi, but it’s just that the hard hitting punch line of tacking the name “Gods” on the cover of Time, and the Time editor's recent interview where he alludes to not including women—on purpose—is offensive.

The media tends to promote men more than women. In Howard Chua-Eoan’s quote from his interview with Eater, “it's all men because men still take care of themselves. The women really need someone—if not men, themselves actually—to sort of take care of each other,” I would argue that men need women more. Behind every male chef, there’s most likely a whole team of amazing women who are making his career happen, but the man has propped up in front. In our food magazines here in Europe, the press promotes men more than women. They like to promote sexy, posh girls. It’s all about what’s going to sell, but it didn’t used to be like that. It used to be whether you’re a really great cook or not. 

I’m not one of these women that should’ve been in there. I stopped cooking and had a lot of children. As female chefs like myself, we have to both work and look after our families. We have to cook, and then go home and cook more. Until I got married, I didn’t realize that the culinary world was so sexist. Fergus left to open a restaurant while I looked after the children. It takes you a while to get back into it, and at that stage you might not have the mojo to be in the kitchen all of the time. I do believe that there are a lot of women out there who are cooking really hard and producing truly incredible food, but it’s a boys club. 

I do believe that women are maligned in kitchens. I constantly have to fight in my own kitchen. Even my own female chefs at my restaurant have to fight to prepare meat, to brown the meat. Male chefs prefer to have women preparing vegetables and pastries. A girl has a hard enough time in the kitchen in the beginning that she has to fight her way through. She has to really push through if she wants to be dealing with things like fish and meat at the cooking stations. Men feel it is their right to prep the fish because they will be better at it, perhaps because they are stronger. But it’s about technique, not strength. 

That’s also this theme with the type of food that we are currently celebrating in the world—a very male type of food. Women tend to cook in a much more straight-forward way—a gentler approach, and that’s not being celebrated. 

More on sexism:

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