Thursday, November 20, 2008

Madam Chef

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.

Cross posted at IFA.

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