We met recently, and she told me a couple of her job search stories. I’m sharing what I said to her below. Looking squarely at the ways we keep women out of the top spot in the kitchen is one step toward change. When I hear a chef bemoan the shortage of talent in our industry, A’s story is one of many that jump to my mind.
When a man in a position to hire tells you he is struggling to see how you fit in the business, at a time when you’re ready for an executive chef position, look on him as a dangerous gatekeeper. He’s delivering a message that’s been spinning for female cooks for ages. He's telling you, you don’t belong.
It’s not entirely true he couldn't see a place for you either. He sent you line-cook job postings in mediocre corporate roadhouses. When a juicy position that was a perfect fit came up, he told you it was a long shot. Look on this as a measure of his lack of talent, not yours.
When an executive chef leading multiple restaurants tries to convince you not to go it alone in one of his establishments, but instead become an executive sous chef (as if that job title isn’t warning enough), remember that a lot of men like having women in that position. They parade them around at events as evidence of their wokeness. Of course, it works for them because it follows the natural order of men on top. But sous chef today is a position reminiscent of pastry/garde manger when I was an apprentice. Both are pink ghettos where a lot of female talent gets parked indefinitely.
He’s also the chef who thinks so little of your decade of stellar experience that he wants you to come in and do a stage before he decides if you’re a good fit. Stop and ask yourself if he’s getting men with similar experience to jump through that hoop? They’d tell him where to get off. So should you.
Sadly there’s no shortage of men continuing to participate, consciously or not, in the toxic masculinity that pollutes culinary culture. They came up through the brigade system and slavishly still cling to it. Instead of getting rid of a broken military model, they make a problem of anyone who doesn't fit it. Few are the men who possess the courage to change, and many are the men who pay lip service to it. But don’t think we can’t see the ways they plod along serving their brothers and the status quo.
When you hear the message that you don’t belong, in all of its gross and sly manifestations, RUN THE FUCK AWAY. Do not internalise it. Take too much of that in, and pretty soon you’re talking yourself out of your greatness. Just know the barriers thrown up against women moving into a position of authority are still formidable.
Let us take pleasure in dining out on the stories of these men. We must warn our female colleagues about who's practising this brand of bullshit.
Hold out for the people who recognise and want your kind of special. Sadly, along the way, you'll have to show your back to plenty of unworthy motherfuckers. It’s not your job to teach men how to be decent humans and leaders, but it doesn't hurt to point directly to the things that are problematic in their offers.
Put me on speed dial for those rare occasions when you start to give in to it.
Note: This is the second piece I have written to a woman who came to me for professional guidance. Here is the first.