Madam Chef

by Kay Steiger

Via Sadie at Jezebel, The Independent has an essay on how women are “everyday cooks” while men earn the title of “chefs.” I already wrote a post here on the IFA about my own personal aversion to the kitchen and attention to the gender stereotypes, but I think that Sophie Radice seems to hit on a fear that many women have: although men may be taking on more cooking responsibilities, there’s still a hierarchy there. Women are supposed to prepare the daily dinners while men take the stage and show off for the dinner parties.

The only time I ever suggested cooking for anyone other than the children he laughed. For he believes that only men can be truly great cooks. And though he is not a misogynist in real life, he certainly is in the kitchen.

The thing is, the kitchen is real life. It’s a perpetual problem that women allow their partners to imply that their role in the home is one of maintenance. Women need to ask that men take an equal share in the everyday cooking, and take the stage if they want to. The point of all this gender discussion isn’t just to make sure we have more Stephanies on Top Chef, it’s also about making home responsibilities more equitable.

Radice makes a lot of good points about the general feeling about skill levels of men and women in the kitchen, but she also seemed to imply that complicated recipes are overrated (and her piece is loaded with some gender stereotypes of her own). There’s no shame in taking on a complex dish — but they shouldn’t be expected for everyday. One thing I’ve discovered with my own cooking experiences is that a lot of it is about confidence. While I found a lot of joy in trying this asparagus souffle from Simply Recipes with Kate at home, I would’ve been terrified to serve something so complicated to guests. But if you have the confidence required, you don’t mind making complicated things, even if they fail.

The ego that goes with many Top Chef contestants (and other major chefs) is one that is broadly encouraged in men and discouraged in women. The kind of negative commentary Radice gets from her husband only furthers her lack of confidence in her cooking skills. So remember to compliment the chef — especially if that chef is a she.


6 responses to “Madam Chef

  1. For he believes that only men can be truly great cooks.

    For that to be true, you have to believe every urban legend about semen in the special sauce.

  2. Oh yeah? Go ask Alice (Waters, that is).

    Also, to whatever extent there might be some truth buried in the assumption that men are chefs while women are everyday cooks, there is a behavioral component and a societal component.

    The societal component is that women are the caregivers to the children – men always have, and continue to shirk anything approximating an even share of that responsibility. So a woman recognizes that the children have to eat every couple of hours, not just when they feel like cooking, so they may not invest quite as much thought and effort in every meal. The same would be true for a man who actually had that same day-to-day responsibility.

    The behavioral component is that men seem to be much more deeply fascinated by the little technical details that are necessary to a complex undertaking such as, oh, HAM radio, amateur telescope making, ammunition reloading, fine cooking. Tiny minutiae seems to generally fascinate men and annoy women.

    At least the ones I know…


  3. It’s interesting to see how stereotypes change; a few decades ago, I understand, women were supposed to be the “only” people who cooked, as that was their patricarchally-mandated societal role as “homemakers.” Ever since I started working in the restaurant industry, though, I’ve heard all these urban legends from co-workers and sous chefs about how women can’t cook (on the same evidentiary grounds, I suspect, as African-Americans being bad tippers). It’s amazing to see the kind of argumentative whiplash needed to hold all these assumptions together.

  4. I’m a man who does the everyday cooking and the fancy stuff for special occasions. My wife likes to cook and does so from time to time, but I do most of the cooking. And though I’m not a control freak in real life, I certainly am in the kitchen. We’ve found it works best for me to be out of the house altogether when my wife cooks. And even then I find it hard not to nitpick the saltiness or lecture about how BBQ sauce burns in the oven. It’s quite unbearable.

  5. not universally, but so much of this is changing on an everyday level. I feel like it’s almost expected with the guys I date that they know how to cook something…it’s just unprogressive and backwards to admit to me that “my mom always did all the ocoking and all I’m capable of is ramen”. also a hallmark of laziness. i mean — we all have to eat! if you would never bother to try to cook something, I feel like that reflects poorly on your creativity and perhaps personality.

    That being said, i know a lot of women who are truly terrified and intimidated by the kitchen. As far as I can tell, this is because they feel there are so many expectations about being able to cook. Whereas a guy can get off easily as just never having learned it.

  6. I am a professional chef and in the culinary world am known as MadamChef. I get so tired of hearing that men are better than women in the kitchen. It’s just not so! Rating men vs women by a cooking show which is for entertainment purposes is a bad way to offer an opinion anyway as 1) you aren’t tasting the food (I have a show and sometimes we have to pretend that it is good) and 2) the emphasis is on the entertainment and not the cooking techniques which in a producton kitchen is NEVER how it is!!! Gordon Ramsey is a joke in the world of culinary arts! Just FYI!

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