“Women are from Venus while men are from Mars”, the author of the book with the same title proclaimed years ago. There is a huge chasm between the two genders, and we can observe it in the world of cheflebrities, as we note how differently the chefs of each side are marketed.
The men usually wear their starchy whites and work under pressure in a rough kitchen, showing the public their “I’m a tough chef and I mean business and my job is hard” face. Take Gordon Ramsay as he runs Hell’s Kitchen like the devil himself. One minute of watching the show was all I needed to convince myself that I never wanted to be a cook ever. But perhaps he is just showing the real side to being in the business. Apparently a lot of restaurants still prefer to hire men because the job gets too hectic and will be too hard for women. The U.S. Department of Labor considers chef a “non-traditional” job for women, placing it on the same list with jobs such as construction worker, firefighter and engine mechanic.
Thus, when women chefs take to the public, they are hardly ever marketed as a professional restaurant chef but as either as a nurturing mother or a sex pot.
One of the highest-earning female celebrity “chefs”, Rachael Ray, operates in a “home kitchen” set designed to show audiences how to cook for family and friends instead of customers, forever wearing a smile on her face – the exact opposite of Ramsay’s disposition (although her team is still guilty of sexualizing her) . Lidia Bastianich is a successful restaurateur (four restaurants including Felidia, Becco, Lidia’s in Pittsburgh and in Kansas City), yet on her TV shows this is not highlighted so much as the focus on the family meals she prepares.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have a sexed up Giada de Laurentiis who wears provocative outfits (nothing like Ramsay’s chef whites, I tell you) as she sensually bites into her food or even lounges in them. I can’t help but wonder if this is really necessary. I mean, even though Jamie Oliver is called the “naked chef” it referred to his food and not to him (or did I just miss that particular episode?). And I realize that yes it is necessary for Giada to market herself thus, because she may not be a blip on the radar without this “packaging.” Award-winning women chefs like Michelle Bernstein are hardly ever heard about, for example, yet male counterparts like Wolfgang Puck have their own Wikipedia page.
Our society dictates that Venus needs her looks while Mars just needs his abilities. Why am I not surprised. It’s applicable to the culinary world, same as in everything else. (Where’s the justice in that?)
Change is Coming
There are, however, exceptions to the rule, like Cat Cora, the first female Iron Chef and who is recognized as a professional chef the way men are. The good news is that women chefs are on the rise. So maybe in a few (or quite so many) years, the lines of Mars and Venus will blur just yet. We look forward to the day where women are not de-sexed, but the flavor of their food and talent comes before their chromosomal make up. But in the meantime, if you are a fledgling female chef who has the hopes of making it in this biz, you had better make sure you don’t eat too much of your own cooking so that you can squeeze into that sexy apron. Now drench me in tomato sauce please.