Today’s celebrity chefs are treated like rock stars. But mostly male rock stars. Like many other professions, men have somehow garnered more fame and bigger paychecks than their female counterparts in the restaurant world.
The new Logo documentary “Hungry” aims to examine how and why that came to be. Filmmaker Patty Ivins (“Reversal of Fortune”) took a look at gender inequality in restaurant kitchens for the film.
Among the chefs she interviewed: Los Angeles-based Dakota Weiss, who owns Estrella and Sweetfin Poke; Pink Delongpre, owner of Bacon & Brine in Solvang, Calif.; and Sarah Kirnon, owner of Miss Ollie’s in Oakland.
“For centuries the professional chef world has traditionally been perceived as a man’s world where men were chefs and women were pastry chefs,” Ivins said. “Food magazines and TV shows have also celebrated the idea of the edgy male chef, covered in tattoos barking orders in the kitchen – the more bombastic the better. This portrayal of what it takes to be ‘the head chef’ has not helped the rise of women in professional kitchens.”
Ivins compared the gender disparity in the food world to Hollywood, where she said she has experienced similar issues. Ivins co-founded the production company PB&J, and won an Emmy for the doc “Hollywood Rocks The Movies: The 1970’s with David Bowie.”
“What I didn’t initially realize is that our fields share a lot of real obstacles for women,” she said. “Obstacles that most ambitious women are certain won’t be roadblocks for them, but obstacles that are well-researched and documented, and frankly, cannot be ignored.”
Ivins cited stats, via Bloomberg, that women chefs make up only 6% of the executive chef positions at the top 15 restaurant groups in the country. In Hollywood, last year women directors helmed only 7% of the 250 top-grossing films of the year and 17% of the TV episodes produced in the 2015-2016 season. “Not terribly impressive statistics,” she said.
In making “Hungry,” Ivins said she was most shocked by the fact that so few people wanted to talk about it. “I reached out to over 40 top male chefs and only a small handful agreed to discuss the issue,” she said. ” And the truth is many prominent women chefs had mixed feelings about addressing the gender issue, as well. One award-winning woman chef accepted my interview request and then cancelled on the day of…twice!”
Famed chefs that she did manage to interview included the groundbreaking “Too Hot Tamales” duo of Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken, who broke new ground with Border Grill. She also talks to Amanda Cohen, Marcus Samuelsson, Los Angeles magazine’s Patrick Kuh and KCRW’s Evan Kleiman.
Ivins said change is happening via organizations like Women Chefs and Restauranteurs and websites that are prompting established organizations to reflect on how they judge greatness.
“This is a field where media representation matters,” she said, “and seeing more women in head roles creating critically recognized restaurants is crucial to expanding the industry’s mind about what a professional chef looks like. “
“Hungry” premieres Nov. 17 at 9 p.m. ET on Logo. Here’s a first look: