In the new Hulu documentary, A Woman’s Place, women chefs define their resilience.
The title, A Woman’s Place, is more than just a name for a compelling documentary. The 30-minute documentary by Academy Award Winning director Rayka Zehtabchi in partnership with KitchenAid and the James Beard Foundation debuted on Hulu today. While the plight of the restaurant industry has taken a grim tone given the world’s health crisis, another crisis still looms in the kitchen. In this case, a woman’s voice, not just place, needs to be heard in the kitchen.
Most people can probably recall that old phrase of the woman’s place should be in the kitchen. While not explicitly said, it was often meant for women to be seen, not heard. Even though the kitchen is the heart of the home, women may not feel empowered in that spot. Instead of the joyful memories passed down through generations or celebrating the creativity in the moment, that spot behind the stove sometimes cast a somber shadow.
Looking through food culture, celebrated chefs and culinary accolades, there seems to be a missing balance. While food on the plate must have a flavor balance to achieve that perfect bite, the professional kitchen scale is often tilted to male chef advantage. Although the boys’ club mentality is frowned upon, more needs to be done to restore scales to a more balanced level.
According to the Office of U.S. Labor statistics, only 7% of executive chefs are women although 50% of culinary school graduates are women. Whether is it lacking opportunity, a problem within the kitchen culture or something else, this disparity is concerning. Based on these findings, a woman might be in the kitchen, but she is not being heard in the kitchen. There is a significant difference.
This documentary brings honest, real commentary from three women in the culinary industry. The women highlighted are Marielle Fabie, Etana Diaz and Karyn Tomlinson. While each woman has her own story to tell, a common theme unites them. Throughout their careers, they have been told no, discouraged and otherwise feel dismissed because of their gender.
Over the years, there has been much discussion and debate over women in the culinary industry. This film isn’t the first, nor will it be the last to discuss this topic. While more people are aware of the issues, the change isn’t happening as swiftly as many people in the culinary world would like.
Years ago, Dominque Crenn of Atelier Crenn, questioned why her accolade “Best Female Chef” in the world needed a gender destination. Her three Michelin stars aren’t awarded to just the best 3-Star female run kitchen. Her accomplishments are earned for her culinary creativity, not her gender.
If a person was to do a blind taste test of two plates of food, would one taste significantly different because it was cooked by a woman? Granted, every chef has his/her creative interpretation, but can you tell a chef’s gender by the food on the plate? Maybe it is time to look at the talent creating the food, not the gender of the person holding the knife.
While there have been strides over the years, there can still be improvements. Even in today’s landscape which has devastated the restaurant industry, women’s culinary voices need strong support. If this documentary and initiative can help in some way, it is doing its job.
Within A Woman’s Place, Karyn Tomlinson says that she wants to create a restaurant to meet people where they are at and to offer a connection beyond the plate of food on the table. That idea can easily extend more broadly to the culinary industry.
Even though food television might have recently crowned another female Top Chef and people are still enamored with the iconic Julia Child, those two dichotomies do not have to be the only representation of the women voices in the culinary industry. Whether it is the female butcher who can expertly break down a pig to the culinary innovator who just finishing culinary school, that open door of opportunity can push everyone forward.
In some cases, the conversation can even start in the home kitchen. As a company founded by and shaped by women, that KitchenAid Stand Mixer could be the first ingredient to start the conversation within your home. Whether it is passing down a family recipe, sparking a conversation on equality or just meeting each other in the moment and embracing it, food is and will always be a universal language. Why not use that language to move the equality conversations forward.
A Woman’s Place is a 30 minute documentary on Hulu. It is in partnership with KitchenAid and the James Beard Foundation. For more information on how to support women in the culinary industry, please visit kitchenaid.com/awomansplace or to learn about James Beard Foundation mentorship programs, please visit www.openforgood.com/mentorship.
Have you experienced gender inequality in the culinary industry? Do you think that there has been improvement?