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The macho kitchen and some unpalatable truths

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on January 16, 2018

bl06_think_angy chef

Man in the kitchen. It’s good, right?

Depends on the kind of kitchen. We’re not discussing the home here, but the business of cooking where women are alarmingly missing.

You mean women chefs?

Men dominate the profession across the globe, courtesy social prejudices, unsavoury regulations peppered with the bitter, often unspoken, fact of gender discrimination. Sample this: Last Monday, the famous Michelin guide on restaurants and hotels released its list of the most famous chefs in the UK.

And?

All 20 newly “starred” chefs were men. Ironically, they had a “best female chef” award, as a consolation price of sorts. That irked activists and foodies even more. Critics say this is gender discrimination. Again, there are only two women in the popular World’s 50 Best Restaurants list this year. In Epicurious’s list of the world’s most influential chefs of the last 15 years, there isn’t a single woman.

Shocking! Women have been fantastic in private kitchens for centuries.

Indeed. In the UK, fewer than one in five chefs is a woman. Even this number is falling. Data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics scanned by the Change Group, a luxury hospitality recruiter, shows that the number of chefs employed in the UK grew by over 20,000 new jobs in 2015, but the number of women working as chefs fell by 1,000 during the same period.

And the US numbers?

Equally pathetic. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, in 2012, nearly 19 per cent of chefs and executive chefs were female. Despite the fact that women account for a bigger slice of the US food service industry, the gap between the number of female and male head chefs is huge. A Bloomberg Business analysis shows women occupy just 10 out of 160 head chef positions at 15 leading US restaurant groups.

Unbelievable!

Yeah. The problem is the way the industry works. It’s not that women don’t want to enter the field. The Change Group recently conducted a survey of more than 500 experienced female chefs and more than 70 per cent of them said they would recommend it as a career to other women despite the inequality in compensation packages.

So, they’re paid less?

You said it! Women chefs’ salaries may be going up now, but men still earn about 20 per cent more than women in this sector. In the UK, the average annual salary for a female chef is, reportedly, around £22,000 against nearly £27,000 for male chefs.

It gets worse and worse!

Sexual discrimination is routine in the sector, as it is in all the sectors. Chloe Maisey, a famous chef, recently alleged that she was groped and shut in a freezer while working at The Hardwick, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Wales. Several such charges have been reported , most of which have gone unnoticed by the industry. Such attitudes force women to leave. A study says nearly two in five women chefs in the US is considering leaving the industry. The situation is equally disturbing in India, where the hospitality industry is infamously anti-women.

Looks like We need an Occupy Kitchens movement.

Quite. But the onus is on the industry to change. They should introduce a gender-friendly working environment, plug the gaps in compensation and build best work practices. This is important because we’re talking about a multi-billion dollar industry where chefs play a vital role in garnering revenues. Are they listening?

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Published on October 05, 2016

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