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Time's 'Gods of Food': No woman chefs allowed

Posted by Devra First  November 8, 2013 03:20 PM

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The cover package for the Nov. 18 international editions of Time magazine is headlined "The Gods of Food." If you happen to be a goddess, good luck to you.

Four of 13 so-called gods of food are women. The package includes a story with the headline "The Dudes of Food," about chefs Alex Atala (D.O.M., Sao Paulo), Rene Redzepi (Noma, Cophenhagen), and David Chang (the Momofuku restaurants, New York and beyond). The three are pictured on the cover, with the subhed: "Meet the people who influence what (and how) you eat." And -- this is the part that really burns -- there is a family tree of chefs that doesn't include a single woman. Out of nearly 60 chefs.

In an interview with Eater, editor Howard Chua-Eoan explains. "We did not want to fill a quota of a woman chef," he says. "We wanted to go with reputation and influence."

But what about Alice Waters? Reputation? Influence? If anyone is responsible for the spread of the farm-to-table movement, for the embrace of local, seasonal, sustainably raised food, it is the founder of Chez Panisse. Indeed, Chua-Eoan says, they considered using her as one of starting points of the culinary family tree. (And one can certainly argue plenty of deserving male chefs were passed over as well.) "But her chart ... the thing about Alice is she retains a lot of loyalty, the people who work in her kitchens stay. There are a couple of big names who came out her kitchen, April [Bloomfield] and Dan Barber, I think, but otherwise the tree was sort of thin. So we had to go with someone else at that point. Alice is, of course, iconic."

In other words, the appearance of the graphic triumphed over its content. It's an unusually frank admission regarding the making of the sausage. So to speak. Anyone who works in editorial or design has been in a situation where one was compromised by the needs of the other. As an editorial person, I'd say it's more important, in putting together a graphic about influential chefs, to include the people who ought to be included. If one branch on the tree is thin, pad it out with another element, like the sections on "influential outliers" -- none of whom, in Time's tree, is a woman. (Or, really, an outlier.) Also, in the unnecessarily confusing key, one finds the categories "offshoots" and "shared techniques and inspirations." There's a lot of wiggle room there.

Oh, there is plenty to quibble about and suggest. Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers's River Cafe in London spawned chefs such as Jamie Oliver and the aforementioned Bloomfield. Elena Arzak of Arzak (3 Michelin stars) worked at El Bulli but doesn't appear on the Adria family tree. (In 2012, she was named "Best Female Chef in the World." That this category exists as separate is galling, too.) LA's Suzanne Goin worked with Passard. One wonders what Chang thinks of the package. One of his right-hand men is a woman, Christina Tosi. And although women are found more frequently in the front of the house at his restaurants, there are a good number of women sous chefs on staff.

But there is some truth here about women at the top of the restaurant industry, and about whom we pay attention to as being influential. The salve on the wound is that it is a historical truth. When a version of this chart is drawn up in 10 years (as it will be; the culinary family tree is a staple of publications food-themed and otherwise), it will look different. The number of women-run restaurants with Michelin stars is increasing. There are more opportunities for leadership and mentorship. Food television (the influence of which Time simply ignores), a medium that's been friendly to women since Julia Child, is launching many woman chefs at a high level of visibility. About this world one thing is certain: Change will come.

Now where are the black chefs?

About Dishing

What's cooking in the world of food.


Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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