In November of 2017, Amanda Cohen the chef of Dirt Candy wrote a brilliantly scathing piece in Esquire titled, “I’ve Worked in Food for 20 Years. Now You Finally Care About Female Chefs?” Her chief beef was that women in the food world had largely been ignored by critics and food writers. But now in the wake of #metoo, suddenly the same outlets that had previously shown little interest in female chefs women were eager to hear about how they had been victimized by men.
Only a real grouch would point out how depressing it is that what’s gotten food writers actually excited about covering female chefs is their sexual assaults, not their approach to food…
…Make no mistake about it, I think it’s long overdue that women feel safe enough to come forward and speak about the assault and harassment they experience in restaurants, and I’m glad reporters are holding the perpetrators responsible. This is 100 percent a good thing. But if the press had been as eager to celebrate the talents of female chefs as they are to discuss their victimization, we wouldn’t be in this position in the first place.
Since Cohen wrote that essay, restauranteurs Mario Batali and Ken Friedman in New York and Charlie Hallowell, a chef in Oakland, have been accused of serial harassment by dozens of former female employees, and have left their businesses. Male chefs are being taken to task, but food media is still failing women in the industry. David Chang’s Netflix show Ugly Delicious was light on women and heavy on Aziz Ansari, and the new season of Chef’s Table, also on Netflix, highlights four pastry chefs, only one of whom is a woman.
The antidote to all this is The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution, a documentary about women in the food industry that premiered at the Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival in Toronto on April 26. The 71-minute documentary profiles seven kitchen commandeering women, Anne-Sophie Pic, a French chef with three Michelin stars; Anita Lo an Iron Chef (if that means anything in the world outside Kitchen Stadium) and owner of Annisa; Angela Hartnett, a British super star; Suzanne Barr, a chef in Toronto; Victoria Blamey the former chef at Chumly’s in New York; Charlotte Langely who is known for her outsized pop-ups; Ivy Knight a cook and food writer; and Cohen herself.
Maya Gallus, the director of The Heat, has covered the restaurant industry before with her documentary Dish: Women, Waitressing and the Art of Service. She amplified Cohen’s point about women chefs not getting their due in an interview with The Toronto Star. “Amanda Cohen says being a nice girl, who treats her employees well and sends staff home early, isn’t sexy. No one is going to write about that. They want to hear about the drugs, rock and roll and bad behaviour—that tends to be glorified.”
The Heat is not yet available for US audiences. But in Canada at least, with sold out events at Hot Docs and a spot on TVO, Canadian television station this fall, viewers do want to see a nice girl who treats her employees well and takes the media down a notch when she’s not cooking.