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: