Female chefs profiled: 1
Male chefs profiled: 3
Before it was released, people had a problem with Chef's Table Volume 4: Pastry (here, here, here, here, here). In my opinion, yes, I think David Gelb could have done better to even out the sides of the new season of Chef's Table. Liz Prueitt is a big fucking deal. Melissa Coppel is a big fucking deal. Valerie Gordon is a big fucking deal. ANY of the women who were nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef this year are a big fucking deal. I don't know Gelb's process of who they choose to feature on the show, but he needed to have cast a wider net: professional women pastry chefs fucking exist, in scores upon scores. I dare you to Google it. I'm about to be brought into this fold and guess what? My boss is a woman and of huge fucking stature no less.
And I do believe that here in North America, if it's not par, women dominate and outnumber men in the pastry field.
The only instance I can think of where Gelb would hold up a stop sign to another woman pastry chef not being featured on his series is if: a) the chef's work wasn't "gastro-batory"-enough, which is the bullshittiest cop-out because Corrado Assenza plated a simple Sicilian cannoli in his episode; or b) the chef just didn't have enough of a compelling, side-winding, uphill-battle, chockablock-full-of-adversity personal story before coming into their own. To his credit, Gelb does hold very specific criteria for his show and it's what's made it so successful. Everyone loves the stories as much as they love the food porn. Is everyone capable of making gorgeous, 4k resolution food? Yes. But have they all had their tongue cut out or had been diagnosed with disabling laryngitis or went against their father's wishes to become a Korean monk? No. And having taken in every episode with such obsession and studiousness since it came out, I don't recall one chef who's been featured on Chef's Table who had a banal, straight-line story. It was Gelb's point, he wanted to show that IT is about more than just food and the chefs themselves are more than just food. Pointing out the lack of ashes-to-phoenix story doesn't mean I'm giving him a pass for skimping on the women representation in Pastry, but that may be how his pendulum swung.
While I do dislike that Gelb wasn't considerate enough of women for this latest instalment of Chef's Table, I think so much of what the culinary industry is to women is out of his control. I already pointed it out: the industry thinks women belong in culinary arts when it's in a domestic setting, but in a professional, performative setting, the industry shuns them, anywhere, whether it's in fine dining cuisine or in pastry arts. There is no irony that infuriates me more, there is nothing that grinds my feminist gears more. But this may confusingly contradict the point raised earlier of women dominating the pastry arts scene. I can say with confidence that on a more international scale, I still see men dominating and getting recognized the most for pastry. Most of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France pastry chefs, or "MOFs", are almost all men. And while it might be a shitty metric, the majority of international professional pastry chefs I follow on Instagram are mostly male, even though I'm always hungry to find a chef who looks just like me. Comparing everyone's outcries against Chef's Table shutting out women pastry chefs with the meek representation of international women pastry chefs (no, not home kitchen bloggers), I don't know how to make sense of this disconnect. I can only surmise that it all comes back to patriarchal control, the grip, the herding of women, telling them where and where they can't exist, when and when they cannot be visible. And I don't think I'm far off the mark with my allegation...
Someone did me a solid and held up a magnifying glass on this problem; here's a trailer for the documentary, The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution. It's a documentary about women professional chefs and how they exist in a male-dominated industry. I've yet to see this as the world premiere happens tomorrow, but I'm catching its vibes already. As well, the most recent issue of Foodism Magazine features Lily Hu, a Toronto chef who calls it out HARD in her piece that being a woman chef gets you so much flack and hardly enough slack existing in the kitchen boys club...
The timing of these call-outs couldn't be better, Chef's Table Pastry acting as a bolster for these voices.
I write all of this today on my birthday, which is always a day of self-reflection. And so I'm therefore especially confronted with the most recent earth-shattering change to my identity, to my being, to my person. As I try to find my footing in this new space, I know I'll only be able to concentrate on keeping my head down, not fucking up, and doing a good job. But outside of my work, I will be sure to lend my voice where it needs to be heard, as our cries become louder and more demanding of equality, more recognition, and more visibility. This is the reclamation of our space, we do with it what we fucking will.
Wish me luck.