"You're the chef?"

I get that a lot. Guests will stick their head into the kitchen to see who is cooking and are surprised to find it's a woman. It could be my cheery red chef jacket, or just they were expecting someone else; a male chef perhaps. They are not alone. Of today's executive chefs, 80% are men. The majority of women in the ranks of chefs are more commonly acting as pastry chefs on a culinary team; especially in the high-end restaurants. It wasn't until 1970 that women were allowed to attend the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). To this day, male students outnumber female 7 to 3. Ironically, since prehistoric times, before agriculture women were revered as the main food suppliers. From early hunter-gathers to later indigenous native American tribes, most gave women equal props when it came to food. Women gathered the healthiest food and knew how to store it for times when food was scarce. As societies developed, and women were deemed too fragile to work in the fields, we became "stay at home moms". Leave it to the 18th century French King Louis XV to go so far as to oppose women cooking. He loved fine food an only entrusted menus and culinary preparation to men. One of his mistresses invited him to supper surreptitiously prepared by a woman and he loved it. He declared this new chef should join the royal household. Once he found out he had been "duped", it was all off, of course. Seventy five years later, a cuisinere, Martha Distel founded Le Cordon Bleu, the quintessential culinary academy for French chefs. Thank goodness for Julia Child, Alice Waters and Cristeta Comerford, the first female executive chef of the White House. All of these women paved the way for today's women chefs. Julia Child made French cooking accessible to the home cook with her book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". Alice Waters is the pioneer of "Farm to Table", something everyone wants to talk about today. All three women showed society that with a women in the kitchen, you may be surprised by the soulfulness and creativity of their cuisine. I'm reminded of our progress when I watch the character Collette as she schools young Luigi in the kitchen, in that classic Disney movie Ratatouille. Her intro is brief and in less than 15 seconds she describes the concept of the brigade system, the titles of the various chefs, the importance of working clean and lays down the law to the young boy in a way that effectively governs his actions and helps to launch his culinary career. I wish I were that concise, but that's another article. The point is that women still have to make their own way in the professional kitchen, and it's not as easy nor as common as some may think. We have come a long way, and a lot of it in the past 30 years. I look forward to the changes in the coming decades.

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