Time magazine recently published a feature on the 13 most influential people in the food world. The list actually included 15 people and a company, but it wasn't the fact that Time editors seemingly can't count that had readers, chefs, restaurateurs and just about everybody else in the food industry commenting on the piece. It's that of the 15 people, only four of them are women. And none of the four women profiled are chefs. They're influential in other ways — some would argue more so than the men written about — but the glaring omission in the article begs the question: Where are all the great female chefs?
As soon as the piece came out, men and women in the culinary world began drafting commentaries on what most feel is an obvious snub of all the women who paved the way for some of the top male chefs to rise in the ranks or are innovating without shouting about it from the rooftops. People bring up Alice Waters again and again, as well as, among others, Elena Arzak, Nancy Silverton and Barbara Lynch as female chefs who should have been featured in the Time article.
Waters is, of course, the founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, and though she's more of a restaurateur than a chef, her emphasis on fresh, local organic produce back before it was cool to eat heirloom tomatoes certainly changed the way we eat and think about food. Arzak is a Spanish chef whose restaurant has three Michelin stars, and she won the 2012 title of best female chef in the world from Restaurant magazine (though some might argue that the word "female" needn't be part of that epithet). Silverton redefined bread when she opened La Brea bakery in 1989 and has owned (and still owns) several other restaurants. Lynch has a veritable culinary empire in Boston and dozens of awards to her name.
And then there are the late, great female chefs, such as Eugénie Brazier, the first chef to earn six Michelin stars, which she did all the way back in 1933, and Julia Child, who brought gourmet cooking to the masses through her TV shows and seminal cookbooks.
So where were all these women in the Time magazine feature?
This is not to say that anyone featured on Time's list is undeserving. The chefs include David Chang, Alex Atala, René Redzepi, Albert Adrià, Yottam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi and Dan Barber, each laudable for his original cuisine, famous restaurant(s), and approach to food and eating. Chang opened the now-legendary Momofuku and is the emperor of a global culinary powerhouse. Barber is a leader in the local food movement, and the James Beard Foundation named him the top chef in America in 2009. Redzepi's restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen has been voted the best restaurant in the world for the past three years. These are no small feats.
Still, the women on the Time list are renowned for considerably less flashy culinary roles, none of which involve being in a kitchen. Aida Batlle is a coffee grower in El Salvador who emphasizes site-specific, slow-roasted coffee. Amrita Patel is the chairperson of the National Dairy Development Board in India, and Vandana Shiva leads the charge against genetically modified food. And then there's Ertharin Cousin, the head of the U.N. World Food Programme, who Time says "is responsible for feeding more people than anyone else on the planet."
Aside from Cousin, these women aren't often in the spotlight — at least not to the extent their male chef counterparts are. They're each incredibly influential, and yet readers haven't been satisfied by this offering from Time. None of the featured women are the type of culinary innovators who get the level of national attention enjoyed by the likes of Chang, Redzepi or Atala, whom Time labels "The Dudes of Food."
In a separate infographic for Internet and tablet readers, Time traced the culinary lineage of chefs around the world, implying that many of the greats have either worked for or been directly influenced by Redzepi, Alain Passard, the Adrià brothers (Ferran and Albert) or Thomas Keller. Of the more than 50 chefs mentioned on this list — including Houston's Justin Yu — none is a woman.
Again, we have to ask: Where are all the great female chefs?
The New York Times was one of the first media outlets to respond to Time's feature, and it did so by enlisting five individuals (four of them women) to debate the exclusion. Well, the paper calls it a debate, but it was more like five people each agreeing that female chefs are overlooked by everyone from the media to investors to diners.
Gabrielle Hamilton, chef and owner of Prune in New York City and the author of Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef, delivered one of the most interesting ideas in her essay, a portion of which is excerpted below:
"There are a lot of important opportunities to raise up one's voice, to throw bricks, but this one just seems suspiciously too simplistic and low-hanging — even for me who is always so quick to ire. I just don't like the way it perfectly sets me up like a dog on a leash: Master kicks the dog and I'm supposed to bark? I think the kicking of the dog speaks for itself."
It's a compelling notion — that Time is essentially poking readers in anticipation of their cries. But then Hamilton asks a more important question: Where are all the neighbors who see the master kicking the dog? What do they think? What do Chang or Keller think about being lauded on a list that left out an entire segment of their peers? What is more important, more meaningful: women standing up for other women or the fawned-over men admitting the Time piece is unbalanced?
Hamilton concludes her brief by writing:
"Waiting to get on a list, working to get on a list — this is a time- and soul-suck with no good end. To slip the leash and leave the master standing there holding it while you meanwhile are around the corner throwing an awesome party with all of your friends is the greatest act of defiance I can think of."
Other chefs who commented for The New York Times looked for a way to place blame for the fact that women do, in actuality, wield less power in the culinary world. Chef Anita Lo, who owns Annisa in Manhattan, says that investors and media consumers should be held responsible. Amanda Cohen points to the attention the media gives to male chefs over female chefs, while food writer Alan Richman thinks the list is "accurate and, for that matter, obvious," because men in the industry hold women back. It's not the women's fault, he seems to be saying, that they just aren't up to snuff in the kitchen.
Boston Magazine immediately reached out to Lynch, a woman many thought should have been on the list, to get her take on Time's snub. Lynch said she thinks Time's editor, Howard Chua-Eoan, was clearly looking to get attention with his choices for the feature. "Not that the men in the article aren't talented," she says. "But come on, they have major PR support, and because I've chosen not to be a flash in the pan, I've worked that much harder to be on the national playing field."
In an interview with Eater about the story, Chua-Eoan addressed the omission of Lynch. He basically said that though Lynch has just as many restaurants as Chang, Chang's are spread over the globe, while Lynch's are in Boston only. Therefore he has more cultural influence. "David is a very good entrepreneur," Chua-Eaon said, "which is something beyond just being a cook."
In a nutshell, here's the reasoning Chua-Eaon gave Eater for not including any female chefs among the "Gods":
"None of them have a restaurant that we believe matches the breadth and size and basically empire of some of these men that we picked. They have the reputation and all that and it's an unfortunate thing. The female chef is a relatively recent phenomenon, except for Alice, who has been around for a long time. None of them have the recent breadth that these guys have."
We aren't sure we completely accept Chua-Eaon's excuse for the lack of — shall we say — goddesses on the list. We reached out to some local chefs to find out how they feel about the issue.
"I guess the interesting thing is that unless we yell and scream about it, they're not going to do it any differently," says Monica Pope, chef and owner of Sparrow Bar + Cookshop. "But if we do, we're bitches."
Pope is a well-known and outspoken local food personality, and has made it clear that she's offended not only by Time's lack of acknowledgement of the great female chefs out there, but also the lack of respect she feels as a female chef here in Houston.
"People think, 'Oh, Monica is bitter and angry and resentful,'" Pope says. "But I'm past all that. Years ago, a local writer here did a cover story about 100 foodies in Houston. It could have been anyone — chefs, real estate agents, whatever. Ninety-nine percent of the descriptions of the foodies were positive, but mine was, 'The most failed chef in Houston.' I asked, 'What does that mean?' I was two years into t'afia. Why am I the most failed chef? You know what the response was? 'Oh, we were just being snarky.'"
Pope seems to have landed on an issue that comes up again and again in discussions about women in positions of power or authority, particularly in the kitchen: a lack of respect, even from other women. In responding to Time's article, legendary restaurateur (and chef, though many won't call her that) Waters told a Time reporter, "When you see women in the kitchen, you think it's a domestic thing, and when you see men you think it's a creative thing. That's what we need to change."
"It's related to what women do, which is nurture and cook for their families," Pope says in agreement. "That's not cool. And with the men, it's all about the whole pig and the fire and the 'Look at me.'"
Sylvia Casares, chef and owner of Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen, thinks that there's a business aspect to the oversights as well. Men are generally more respected in the business world, and as anyone who's owned a restaurant knows, it is first and foremost a business.
"Women have been in leadership roles everywhere for the past 20 years," Casares says. "We've been breaking the glass ceiling and educating ourselves to do things that have been male-dominated. It may be that there are no empires run by women chefs, but the food industry is very male-dominated."
Tracy Vaught, co-owner of Hugo's and Backstreet Cafe and a partner at Prego and Trevisio, thinks the notion that women are somehow lesser than men — in the kitchen or the boardroom — is absurd. Vaught, along with her husband, Hugo Ortega, has been busy getting her latest venture, Caracol, up and running, but she took the time to respond to the controversy in an e-mail. "I do feel it is ridiculous to imply or say that women aren't as good as men as cooks. How many successful women in the business do you think were asked to weigh in on the issue? Rhetorical question. It seems silly to even address it, and I am not really interested in the controversy of it all. Rather, I will just get right back to work."
That seems to be indicative of the attitude of successful female chefs and restaurateurs. Put your head down and get back to work, and maybe, someday, someone will notice.
Casares thinks the best way to make sure women start getting the credit they deserve is to not keep quiet when influential media outlets like Time drop the ball. "I think we need to be calling people like Time out on it," Casares says. "We need to be pointing it out. If you keep quiet, they'll just keep doing it. It's going to take time, but women just have to continue to push and compete and get the attention of whoever is influential in media."
Others, like Pope, think that it's going to take a lot more than a few angry women to change things. She wants to see men standing up for female chefs as well.
"Maybe we are guilty of not standing up for ourselves and saying, 'Fuck all of y'all,'" Pope says. "And I'm pretty sure the articles won't be any nicer if we do say that. The world isn't equal; it's not balanced. It's still 76 cents on the dollar we're paid. And guys think that's perfectly fine."
So where do we go from here? The answer seems simple: Give women the credit they deserve. But it's not that easy.
As Waters said, Time's feature didn't focus on the things that are important to many people: eating local, sustainable, seasonal food; feeding your community; and making a difference outside of the kitchen as well.
"If we celebrated food for what it should be celebrated for," Waters says, "women would just naturally rise to the top."
Weird Limited-Edition Holiday Treats
But we still want to try them.
Ahh, the holidays. Time for roasted turkey and jingle bells and homemade pies and Sriracha candy canes and...wait, what? We're pretty horrified about some of the limited-edition holiday products that have hit the shelves (remember Jones Soda's 2004 Turkey & Gravy Soda, anyone?).
But do you know what's even more horrifying? The fact that we kind of want to try some of them.
Check out these 5 Oddly Alluring Holiday Treats:
5. Sriracha Candy Canes
Thanks to J&D's Foods, the Seattle-based company that brought the world the wonders of sriracha popcorn and bacon deodorant, you can now continue to "trick or treat" people long after Halloween. The sriracha-spiced treats look just like regular candy canes, but you'll know the truth. We suggest dangling the innocent-looking candies right on your Christmas tree, inviting the neighbors over and just seeing what happens from there. That'll teach that bastard next door to stop taking things without asking.
Also, we should warn you (as J&D's Foods did on their Web site): "Under no circumstances should you crush these into a fine powder and inhale them up your nose." Thanks, J&D.
4. Pecan Pie Pringles
With last year's limited-edition White Chocolate Peppermint and Pumpkin Pie Spice chips and this year's Pecan Pie flavor, we're pretty sure Kellogg's Pringles Group is being run exclusively by a 15-year-old stoner these days. We don't even care if said stoner is making a gazillion times more money than us, because that kid is kind of a genius.
Rumor has it the pecan-pie-flavored chips taste more maple syrupy than nutty, but that's all the better to stuff into your Sausage Egg McMuffin.
Hey yo, Kellogg's! Get at us — we've got some ideas for y'all.
3. Baskin-Robbins Turkey Cake
Because homemade pumpkin, pecan and apple pie just aren't enough, why not try a caramel-glazed turkey cake from Baskin-Robbins? The cake, basically a mound of ice cream adorned with sugar cones and drenched in a caramel-pecan topping, can even be customized with one — or two! — of your guests' favorite flavors.
Thank God for Baskin-Robbins. This not-at-all-disgusting-looking turkey cake will make the perfect topping for our homemade pies this Thanksgiving.
2. Roasted Turkey Doritos
We're guessing that these turkey-flavored Doritos — shaped like Christmas trees (because why not?) and available only in Taiwan — are actually better than they sound. Because, really, no bag of Doritos sounds particularly good. That is, until you drunkenly lock yourself out of your apartment at 3 in the morning but then remember the gas station is still open so you get yourself a bag of Doritos to tide you over until you can get in touch with a friend and it's so delicious you forget to call anyone so you pass out in front of your door and wake up the next morning with a headache and crumbs/bright-orange fingerprints all over your brand-new shirt...
Like we said, the roasted turkey flavor is probably pretty tasty.
Now if they'd only make all our Christmas dreams come true and collaborate with Taco Bell on a Doritos Locos Roasted Turkey Taco...
1. Pizza Hut's Christmas Delight Meal
What do you want for Christmas dinner this year, Sally? What's that? You want Pizza Hut's Christmas Delight Meal? The one that includes only the most insane pie of pizza ever, the Double Sensation Pizza — the two-pizzas-in-one where the outer crust is stuffed with three cheeses and topped with turkey, ham, peppers, mushrooms and salsa, and the inner crust is stuffed with sausage and cheese and topped with smoked chicken, zucchini, alfredo sauce and a sole cherry? Okay, sweetie. Christmas Delight Meal it is!
Sadly for Sally, and for all of us, this deal is available only in December...and in Singapore. There's always next year.
Houston gets its first Pluckers.
If you love wings, TVs and cheap drinks, you'll be happy to learn that Pluckers Wing Bar has landed in Houston. While it's the concept's first location in the Bayou City, the company has 14 other spots scattered throughout the Austin area, where it began, and in Dallas and Baton Rouge. I got a great first look at the casual restaurant and bar — a week before it opened — when complimentary, open-to-the-public mock services were held. The huge restaurant — two patios, a large main dining area and an almost equally big bar area, all plastered with TVs — was packed to the brim.
I didn't expect my visit to "pass" with flying colors on one of the first days it was "open" and simultaneously on the verge of being overcrowded. Plus, two visits to their Austin locations a couple of years ago were disappointing (the chicken sandwiches I ordered came out wrong both times).
But the place actually did pass, and with flying colors. My lunch began with a huge mason jar of their sweet iced tea. The oversized jug of what some would call the state beverage made me feel so Texan that I almost uttered a "y'all" and "fixin' to." I had one-and-a-half appetizers, which could have easily equated to one entire meal: an order of Pluckers Nachos (tortilla chips topped with chicken, queso, honey barbecue sauce, red onions and cilantro) and fried pickles. The nachos looked prettier than your average bar nachos, and they tasted quite all right, too. The chicken topping the nachos was...gasp...real chicken — not the ubiquitous microwavable varieties pre-painted with grill marks and found at many chain restaurants. The cilantro and onions were pleasantly fresh as well. My only complaint was that the barbecue sauce was a little too sweet, even for me, and I'm a big fan of the sweet-savory marriage.
As for the fried pickles, they are the best I've ever had; I kid you not. These juicy pickles came in spears rather than round slices, and were covered in a delicately crispy batter that adhered perfectly to the pickle. Pluckers could have saved time and effort on making a dipping sauce to go with them, as the fried pickles were great all by themselves.
For my second meal, er...entrée, I tried the ten-wing (bone-in) combo. You can choose the flavor of the wings in orders of five, so I went with the honey barbecue sauce for half and the spicy ranch flavor for the other half. I liked the honey barbecue on my wings much better than on the nachos, and the spicy ranch wings were spicy in the sense that they had plenty of spices sprinkled on them, not in a hot-sauce kind of way. Had I been looking for a hot variety, the Fire in the Hole wings probably would've satisfied the craving — if you take 25 of those down, you are honored by being listed on the Wall of Flame. As for the wings on their own, they had a nice amount of meat on them and were cooked well. I chose the baked potato casserole as a side. It was made of layers of sliced potatoes intermixed with black pepper, chives, bacon and cheese. It's hard to go wrong with any dish that combines potatoes, cheese and bacon.
During my hour-or-so-long visit, I counted five managers making rounds, talking to each table to ensure that everything was perfect. This, along with my dining experience, indicates that Pluckers is serious about plenty of things apart from their wings.
And they serve plenty of things apart from wings, too. Beef and chicken burgers along with plenty of appetizers and salads can be found on the menu. As far as drinks go, Pluckers has developed a cult following for its iced teas and lemonades, served in big mason jars. Adult-beverage-wise, draft and bottled beer and a run-of-the-mill liquor selection that forms the base for a short specialty cocktail list are offered.
Pluckers was off to a super start that day. If they continue on the same track, it's easy to see why, in 2012, "USA Today named Pluckers one of the Top 10 Wing Restaurants in America and ESPN named it one of the Top 5 Sports Bars in North America," as listed on their Web site.
Openings and Closings
Worhals closes in a flash, BurgerFi ventures to Sugar Land & Vallone's welcomes its first diners.
With Thanksgiving slowing everything down, it's no surprise that it was a quiet week for restaurant openings and closings.
Thanksgiving Day was a sad one for anyone hoping to bring a pie from House of Pies on Kirby to the dinner table. After its roof caught fire a few weeks ago, the Kirby location was forced to close. Even though management tried to reopen before Thanksgiving, Syd Kearney of the Houston Chronicle reports the location was forced to remain closed during the holiday. Hopefully the much-loved 24-hour pie emporium will reopen before Christmas.
In surprising news, Worhals Midtown has officially shuttered, after opening only in September of this year. Our sister blog, Rocks Off, tweeted that the bar had officially closed. The Facebook page no longer exists, and no one at the bar will answer the phone. Our only question is, what is going to happen to all the beer?
That's it for closings this week. Let's take a look at restaurants that opened or announced official opening dates.
On November 22, The Gaslamp opened in Midtown. Eater reports that the new bar resides next door to The Dogwood. It's open Thursday through Sunday. The Gaslamp has an outdoor patio and a menu filled with Mediterranean dishes.
Eater reports that BurgerFi made its way to the First Colony Mall in Sugar Land on November 23. Our first impression with the burger chain in The Woodlands was not the best, but we hope the restaurant has made some necessary changes to its service and execution of menu items.
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Carla Soriano checked out Houston's first Pluckers Wing Bar, which opened November 25. She didn't set the bar high for the restaurant, since it was the first day it officially opened to the public. But after tasting the nachos covered with chicken, queso, honey barbecue sauce, red onions and cilantro, sipping the sweet iced tea in a mason jar, and munching on the fried pickles (which she said are the best she'd ever had), Soriano concluded that Pluckers Wing Bar was off to a great start.
Kaitlin Steinberg got a sneak peek at Vallone's (which opened December 1) during a recent fundraiser/preview event. She and her dining companion note that the new Tony Vallone restaurant will be a place where anniversary celebrations, birthdays, proposals and intimate gatherings will frequently take place.
Many Houstonians have been waiting for 60 Degrees Mastercrafted to open, and it finally has, though with a soft opening only. Eater reports that the restaurant will be in a soft-opening phase until the middle of December, when it will officially open. (The grand-opening celebration will take place in January. Certified master chef Fritz Gitschner (former chef at the Houston Country Club) will head up the kitchen, serving lunch and dinner throughout the week, as well as dinner on Saturdays and brunch on Sundays.
If you have recently been to any of the five Black Walnut Cafes in Houston and the surrounding areas, you might have seen a sign stating the restaurant is expanding. Black Walnut Cafe plans to open restaurants in Vintage Park and Allen and at the Lone Star Executive Airport in Conroe. No dates for the future expansions have been confirmed.