TCS Column no.2: Misogyny in the Kitchen

I’ve been very lucky in life. I am fully committed to the feminist cause, but I’ve never felt able to be that vocal on the subject as I personally have never really experienced discrimination. With a mother and a sister who are both wildly successful from pure hard work, I’ve never felt that I couldn’t achieve whatever I set my mind to. But the restaurant industry has given me a taste of what it’s like to be put down because of your gender. As one 35 year old man eloquently put it when referring to a mistake he had attributed to me which had actually been made by a female co-worker “well they’re all pretty much the same”.Every kitchen I’ve worked in has had a disproportionate number of women and they’ve mostly worked in the dessert kitchen. I get it, tattoos, knives, muscles; cooking is a macho world. Having said this I have also had some really positive experiences of turning the stereotype on its head. For example it was quite something when, having volunteered my ipod as background music to prep work, the chefs chose The Marriage of Figaro Overture. It can be the most satisfying feeling in the world when you prove yourself to a bunch of mildly patronising men and prove that women can be strong, capable and innovative in the kitchen. But it’s sad that these positive experiences are overwhelmed by cases of a few men trying to prove they are the biggest bullies in the kitchen. It shouldn’t be the case in some of the top Michelin starred restaurants in England. One place I worked had a dangerously discriminative atmosphere. A small group of chefs undermining the women in the kitchen rippled through to influence other chefs, porters and waiters. It was little surprise that during my short time there 1 female chef walked out, another gave her notice and the last woman left was new that week.

No wonder that internationally there are over 100 Michelin starred male chefs and just 6 female. This is often put down to anti-social hours being hard to balance with family life, but as the reported 92% increase in the UK of female NEDs in just the past three months shows (Forbes, June 2015), that isn’t what has been holding women back. For a man to show weakness in this industry is a failure; for a woman, it’s career suicide. Luckily women are fighting back. As the Old Boys Club ‘The Savoy Grill’ hires its first female head chef in its 126 history, most kitchens are learning the hard way that women are here to stay. But it’s a shame that in the 21st century, a few restaurants remain a bullying and sexist environment.

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