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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Saturday, January 22

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Column Thu Oct 01 2015

Backwards Thinking Spoils the Broth


There is a difference between men's and women's approaches to food. I can't help noticing the food that women love: regional, instinctive cooking that is not being celebrated in the top-fifty lists. The loving, nurturing side of the trade, the instinctive side -- and, I would say, the feminine side -- is being forgotten.

--Chef Margot Henderson (Rochelle Canteen, London)

Somewhere underneath the dense layers of sexual generalizations, a familiar point emerges: women are underrepresented in kitchens. Surprise. In "Where Are All the Women Chefs?," Chef Henderson echoes a repetitive message, unique only in the sense that it's chock full of mundane stereotypes and fossilized nostalgia. Henderson asks why women aren't running more kitchens, given their inherent love for cooking and nurturing. Her theory is that it's because two types of cooking exist: a male kind and a female kind.

She explains that the loving, nurturing, and instinctive aspect of cooking is no longer part of the culinary trade. Quasi-science follows suit: "I think it's ancient. I think it goes right back to the Stone Age. Women produce food; men provide food. In other words, we breast-fed while the men went out and hunted. Both were necessary. We needed both to survive. And both are still in our instincts. Our anatomies decided that."

I'm uncertain how to take that logic (or anything in that article) seriously. Is it our magical breasts that enable us to coddle corn cobs and prance around in rose-adorned aprons? Is it our delicate, moisturized fingers that enable us to shape pretty pies and cakes? Sure, there are Ina Gartens in the kitchen, but there are also many female chefs who won't hesitate to stab your hand if you mess with her mise en place.

Henderson continues to lament:

I feel we will lose the old ways -- the delicious, simple ways. I worry for all the young men who want to be superstars with a probe in their pocket, and have forgotten what their grannies cooked. Kitchens are turned into laboratories, filled with tools and weapons...It almost makes me weep to be told that to confit a duck leg in plastic underwater is just as good as to confit in duck fat.

A sous vide machine allows us to cook meats at constant low temperature, which is literally impossible over open fire. Advanced blenders and food processors grind and mix things beyond human capability. Digital scales enable consistency and accuracy. Crock pots and timers frees up precious time for creating and inventing. Liquid nitrogen makes instant ice-cream -- INSTANT. Henderson's nostalgic string of thought goes right along with people who lament about the lazy millennials, the shit state of music, or society's increasing sexual promiscuity. The past was better, the present is in ruins, and the future stands no chance. Change scares her, since god forbid anything that beeps should belong in the kitchen, or that you can actually make fantastic wages through media recognition.

My issue with Henderson's article is that her vision of a better kitchen is traditionalist in the worst sense. Women are in charge, so long as she smiles by her warm hearth. That sort of backward philosophy won't save the culinary trade from her fears -- in fact, it's the exact sort of rationale some men would gladly endorse.

What will reduce the gender chasm is this: affirmative action for women in leadership positions, sexual harassment training and enforcement in the kitchen, scholarships for female culinary students, and mentorship between female chefs. What will make better food is this: diverse cultural techniques and ingredients, environmental awareness and stewardship, safer and more efficient equipment, and continuing education on the latest trends. That's what kitchens actually need.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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