Culinary arts: sexism on my plate

Today, women are accepted as military officers and commercial pilots, strictly considered male bastions, diluting the patriarchal society which characterises the country. However, in the realm of culinary arts, women are rarely numero uno as men call the shots. To what extent does gender discrimination prevail in the institution of the industrial or commercial kitchen?    

Cooking professionally is an aptitude that encompasses commitment and hard work coupled with boundless hours of training. Women have been associated with home kitchens for millennia to feed their families. Today, in a patriarchal society, women are at a disadvantage to shine as gourmet chefs, which is evident from the fact that men dominate commercial and restaurant kitchens.

Connie DeSousa, co-executive chef and co-owner of Charcut Roast House in Calgary, among Canada’s top restaurants, saying that several women move away from culinary projects largely because of misogyny, sexism and persistence of oppressive conduct towards women chefs. Moreover, women with families have to manage their work-life balance what with the late hours associated with culinary arts.

Women culinary chefs feel that they are disregarded on numerous occasions for the position of official gourmet specialist due to an anachronistic mindset that only men qualify. But a couple of women have cut and diced their way to the highest point of industry kitchens, fine dine restaurants, cooking outlets, private clubs and standalone eateries to herald the arrival of female gourmet specialists.

Over the years, the culinary industry has progressed but change is moderate in terms of gender equality. Besides, wide pay disparity between male and female chefs speaks volumes about gender discrimination in the industrial kitchen.

While women enter this industry as chefs with a passion to succeed and excel over the years, their environment pulls them down, family pressures take their toll, and survival needs take over. This has a domino effect on younger aspirants, dampening their enthusiasm to pursue a chef’s career that gives their critics another handle.

Women gourmet chefs have articulated the strong nature of gender discrimination in the industry. For instance, they say that their proposals are rejected while similar ones from their male counterparts get acceptance. Women chefs gripe that amidst their advancement, male gourmet experts pass slanderous remarks and undesirable comments about them, which drives them to reject the best opportunities in their career. Male gourmet specialists refuse to acknowledge women culinary specialists as their guides because they are not convinced about their capability and kitchen expertise.

Today, the popular perception is that the commercial kitchen is a high-testosterone environment which encourages boisterous, abusive behaviour and is no place for women to work. Gender disparity is one of the harsher aspects of the hospitality industry which must be managed genuinely. Women chefs feel that they need to give their 200% and work harder than their male colleagues to achieve the best.

Some women culinary experts aver that there are no suitable mentors to guide them towards their goal to the top. The unattainable rank disorder alludes to imperceptible simulated boundaries that keep qualified women chefs from career progression and realising their true culinary potential. A few women chefs forfeit lucrative positions over companionship, marriage, migration, children, family and social obligations.

Male chefs feel that their female counterparts need authority and self-assurance to achieve the best. Most women culinary chefs in the business, however, say that their male colleagues do not make them feel comfortable. Therefore, the women opt to run their own pastry shops and create their own space to stay extremely upbeat and fulfilled professionally.

As Veena Arora, Executive Thai Chef, The Imperial, New Delhi wrote in the Hotel Business Review, “A hotel kitchen is considered to be primarily a male-dominated place. It is probably one of the most stressful places as well, but I think that gender biases belong in history books. If you’re tough enough, the world is your oyster.”

Women chefs need not have to “man up” in the kitchen, but prove their professional competence to gain an equal footing with their male colleagues. Elimination of professional segregation by gender is essential to attain economic equality of women and towards 360 degrees growth in the hospitality industry. Gender should become irrelevant in the commercial kitchen. 

(The writer is an Associate Professor with the Department of Hotel Management, at the Christ Deemed to be University, Bengaluru)  

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