Where are all the female chefs?

Women are still the ones doing the majority of unpaid housework, including cooking. But when it comes to pursuing a career in food, many women are still stopped short by a male-dominated environment and long, inflexible hours.

Image by Peter Bond via Wikimedia Commons

My paternal grandmother had a giant kitchen. She was an excellent cook by necessity. She could do things like have an entire roast lunch ready on demand for a crowd of people after church every Sunday. She understood the importance of getting good food onto the table.

One day when I was maybe in my teens, I was helping her out and having a good time of it, and she said something to the effect of “You’re a good cook; you should be a chef!” At the time, I bristled. How un-feminist! How old-fashioned! I mean really, grandma, tsk.

Little did I know what a modern career suggestion she was actually making.

Statistics show that there are almost double the number of men working in Vancouver’s restaurants compared to women (in 2006, 13,360 men to 6,985 women). Nationwide, 1.4 men to every woman are categorized as being in food services or as cooks, and specifically for chefs the discrepancy is much more pronounced, at 3.5 men to every woman.

It isn’t that women have stopped cooking overall. Women are still the ones doing the majority of unpaid housework, including cooking. But when it comes to going into a career in food, lots of women are still stopped short by a male dominated-environment and long, inflexible hours. The tide is slowly changing as a more even distribution of women are being shown in the media on shows like Top Chef and Chopped. However, the majority of women are still shown baking cupcakes (Cupcake Wars, The Cupcake Girls, DC Cupcakes, etc) or as color commentators and eye Candy à la Padma Lakshmi.

So is this about social stereotypes (take a look at the amount of pink in the cupcakes links) or just the options available? Women can arguably do any job that they want to. So certainly we should be enthusiastically starting work at 5am, burning our inner wrists, coming home smelling of garlic and smoke...?

It’s still mostly women cooking for love and pleasure. We are still the ones baking cookies with the kids, bringing birthday cakes for the office, making consolation casseroles for a friend in need. We cook for those we love to show love. It’s so pleasurable, so why muck it up by chasing after a paycheck? 

There is no reason why women can’t dominate the professional kitchen. The question is: Do we want to?

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