a woman’s world?
Female chefs are making it to the top of the commercial
kitchen—long the domain of males.
BY JAN GREENBERG
et’s do the numbers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 14%
of chefs and head cooks nationwide are women. Out of the San Francisco Chronicle’s
2011 Top 100 Bay Area Restaurants, only 15 women headed up kitchens, prompting the
newspaper’s April 6 Inside Scoop to ask “What happened to all the women chefs?” For the past
two years, only two women out of 20 were named Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs.
TOP LEFT: Darlene Barnes is an
advocate of cooking from scratch and
sourcing locally when preparing meals
for the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity at
the University of Washington.
TOP RIGHT: Kobe filet with fresh herbs,
sea salt, truffle oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano is from Michelle Brown at Jag’s
Steak & Seafood.
BOTTOM LEFT: Katherine Polenz
teaches Cuisines of the Americas at
The Culinary Institute of America.
BOTTOM MIDDLE: These dishes,
clockwise from top—pork trotter in the
style of a Buffalo-wing topped with Point
Reyes blue cheese and baby celery; pork
bun; and bacon-in-the-batter waffles
with maple bourbon ice cream and
bacon fat toffee—won the 2011 Queen
of Porc title for Duskie Estes at the
Grand Cochon 555 is Aspen, Colo.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Maine lobster pot pie
from the Kennebunk Inn’s Academe
Maine Brasserie & Tavern was featured
in January 2011 on Food Network’s
“The Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
Ann Cooper’s effort to transform school food throughout the nation has given her national visibility,
and today, she’s director of nutrition services for Boulder Valley School District, Boulder, Colo. Her
less-well-known appointment, though, in 1990 as executive chef at The Putney Inn, Putney, Vt., marked
a milestone for women. She wrote A Woman’s Place Is in the Kitchen: The Evolution of Women
Chefs (Van Nostrand Reinhold Company) in 1997, and many of the issues are still relevant today.
PHOTO CREDIT: Clockwise from top left: Darlene Barnes; Michelle Brown; Academe, Kennebunk Inn; Galdones Photography http://galdonesphotography.com/; CIA/Keith Ferris
That being said, women now make up almost 50% of the national enrollment in culinary schools
and about 25% of culinary instructors. They are omnipresent on television shows and the Food
Network and in print media. The White House executive chef is a woman, and last year’s
James Beard Award Best Chef in New York is female, as well.
a man’s world?
Michelle Brown is executive chef at Jag’s Steak & Seafood, West Chester, Ohio. With six
dining rooms, a 275-seat lounge and a staff of more than 75, Jag’s serves an average of 1,500
guests each week who consume more than 25,000 pounds of beef a year. Brown is the only
woman in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area to manage an enterprise of this size. She
credits determination, good fortune when it came to mentors and, like the majority of women
who head up a kitchen, a partner who understands the business. She is married to Bill Kilimnik,
general manager at The Golden Lamb, an inn and restaurant in nearby Lebanon.
Brown’s culinary life began by accident. The summer before beginning college, she took a job
parking cars at Cincinnati’s now closed Bankers Club. On her first day, she happened to walk
into the club's kitchen. “It hit me like a Mack truck,” she says. “I had no idea anything like that
even existed. It was life-changing.”
She persuaded the at-first reluctant chef Jon York to hire her. “He took me very seriously,”
she says. “I worked most of the stations, and credit him with the foundation of my food
sensibility and knowledge.”