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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Man's Place Is In the Kitchen

Overcoming Generations Of Uninformed Prejudice

I don't get it. Actually, I don't think I've ever gotten it, but the older I get, the less I get it.

It's a form of sexism, I suppose. According to one dictionary definition, sexism exhibits “attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.” Like that other despicable “ism” that defines a person based solely on matters of pigmentation, it is a prejudice that is hard to understand in today's world. What makes it particularly difficult to fathom – at least for me – is its ubiquity.

Before I go any further down the tangent trail, let me clue you in as to the specific nature of my rising rant: the idea that cooking is “woman's work.”

If this were an attitude held solely by the occupants of the bottom rung of the intellectual ladder that champion totin' guns and racin' cars and openin' beer bottles with your teeth as the ultimate in “manly” activities, I wouldn't be surprised. Disgusted, maybe, but not surprised. However, when such outdated, uneducated, backward drivel comes out of the mouths of otherwise intelligent men, I am both surprised and disgusted.

I have a few knuckle-draggers grafted into the lower branches of my family tree. One such troglodyte refuses to allow his male child to learn how to cook because “cooking is for girls.” I find myself barely resisting the urge to jam an apple in this moron's mouth so as to better illustrate the image of the sexist pig that he truly is.

Cooking is for girls,” eh? Let's look at a few recent James Beard Award winners: Tom Colicchio, Timothy Hollingsworth, Jason Wilson, Jeff Michaud, Koren Grieveson, David Kinch, Nicole Plue, Alexander Roberts, Michael Schwartz, Daniel Humm, Sean Brock, Claude Le Tohic, Clark Frasier and Mark Gaier. Yep. Il stronzo uomo delle caverne is right. There are, indeed, two girls on that list.

I really struggle, though, when I hear a well-educated, respected professional, like a good friend's father, say something along the lines of, “Men don't belong in the kitchen.” My only explanation is that he is old and a product of his generation and its uninformed prejudices.

A recent tally of top earning chefs includes Wolfgang Puck, Rachael Ray, Gordon Ramsay, Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, Alain Ducasse, Paula Deen, Mario Batali, Tom Colicchio, Bobby Flay, and Anthony Bourdain. By the benighted reckoning of my friend's father, only two of those named “belong” in their professions.

“Only sissies like to cook,” spouts a redneck relative. Oh, please, please just let me be in the room when you say that to Emeril Lagasse, Marcus Samuelsson, Rocco DiSpirito, Marco Canora, Masaharu Morimoto, Scott Conant, José Andres, Todd English, Rick Bayless, John Besh, Jamie Oliver, Tyler Florence, Michael Chiarello, or Daniel Boulud! And give me a chance to get a mop and bucket before you make such a stupid comment to Robert Irvine.

I can understand where the prejudice comes from. In the shallow, sexist view of a disappearing society, women do the cooking and cleaning while men do the “real” work. Women knit and swap recipes while real men go out and provide for their families. Men bring home the bacon and women cook it. That's the way it's always been and that's the way it's supposed to be, right? Never mind that the last half of the 20th century knocked that kind of Neanderthal thinking into a box and buried it. Some people haven't gotten the memo yet.

Although it may be casting pearls before swine, let me attempt to enlighten the unenlightened; in the everyday Walmart world, grandmas and mammas and aunts and sisters and wives may be the queens of their kitchens. But when it comes to wearing the crown in the professional culinary world, men absolutely rule.

This is not opinion; it's inescapable historic fact. I don't imagine that the names Antonin Careme and Auguste Escoffier would mean much to the average redneck, but those men created the modern professional kitchen. Women might customarily hold sway over the home kitchen, but in the arena of cooking for dollars, men have always made the decisions that influence the direction of the industry. Don't believe me? Ask a female chef – if you can find one. I'm sure she'll tell you all about the 77% male dominance in the restaurant industry. Or visit a local culinary school where the “sissy” boys outnumber the girls who “belong in the kitchen” by a ratio of 7 to 3. Things are slowly changing, but isn't it an ironic twist on the idea that only women belong in the kitchen that on a professional level they have to fight to get there?

Of course, if you aren't an habitue of five-star restaurants, you could just drop by your local IHOP, Waffle House, Cracker Barrel, Olive Garden, Applebee's, etc. and see who's “manning” the stove.

So tell me again: “Only sissies like to cook.” “Cooking is for girls.” “Men don't belong in the kitchen.” How do you breathe with your head jammed that far up your backside?

Not that I particularly care. Along with Shaw, I learned a long time ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and the pig enjoys it. So, if any of you raging rednecks or rampant reactionaries want to take issue with me, mount your tractors or hop in your pickups and come on over. You'll find me in the kitchen. It's where I've been for most of the last half-century. It's where I belong.

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