Media, Me, and Chefs Who Happen to be Women

“I think the media covers the industry. I don’t think the media has to advocate for anything.”

– Time Magazine editor Howard Chua-Eoan in an interview with Eater

Last week, Time Magazine came out with a huge feature boldly entitled, “The Gods of Food”.

The cover (of the non-U.S. versions) has chefs David Chang, Alex Atala and René Redzepi looking somehow both awkward yet casual, their heads touching at uncomfortable angles and their expressions conveying that, while of course they’d rather be in their kitchens, being crowned one of “Gods of Food” is pretty damned cool, too.  Within the article Redzepi also tops one of four lineage trees of sorts alongside chefs Alain Passard, the Adrià brothers, and Thomas Keller, the incredibly talented chefs they’ve influenced spread out below them in an illustration linking them together with vine-like scrawls and buds.

When glanced at quickly, the drawing that connects them resemble a mass of sperm, aggressively swimming to stake claim on the line of royalty. It’s a fitting visual because here’s the thing; not one female chef  is included as a “God of food”.

Chefs Gabrielle Hamilton, Sue Torres, Anita Lo, Amanda Freitag and Elizabeth Falkner at a SHARE event.

Chefs Gabrielle Hamilton, Sue Torres, Anita Lo, Amanda Freitag and Elizabeth Falkner at an event for  SHARE.

What followed the feature’s release was an incredibly direct interview by Hillary Dixler on Eater with the editor in charge of the piece, Howard Chua-Eoan. I’ll let you read it, but Chua-Eoan’s statements of defense enflamed rebuttals and opinions across the Internet’s most influential pages, with scoffed “female” chefs asked to weight in.

In no way am I qualified or interested in what makes a “god of food”.  For two industries that sometimes play to the shallowest, least-enlightened person in a room, the usage of the word “god” in of itself is empty.  I give my nana far more credit for my life-long love of kale than Dan Barber, who the article hails for the leafy green’s cult-like popularity.  Yet I find it curious why Dan (who I highly respect and have nothing against), made the cut over Alice Waters, the chef who has long been looked to as the one who truly started the farm-to-table “trend” decades ago, while Dan was a product of her kitchen?

Just pass me the damned kale; I’m hungry.

But here’s a thing I do have a vested interest in; the “gods” were chosen.  By members of the media.  And in the Eater interview, Chua-Eoan denies that the media has any responsibility in creating trends, and only reports on them.  Which is ridiculous.  I don’t know how many times a chef has told me their restaurant almost closed until a positive New York Times review changed everything.  I get pitched stories weekly by smart (and almost entirely female) publicists who recognize the importance of press coverage.

Don’t try to tell me that the media doesn’t create trends or have a responsibility to promote ones that are fair, and truly worthy, and inventive.

Even within his own interview Chua-Eoan uses the term “interesting” as a deciding factor in how certain aspects of the feature were determined; the editors had to come up with an interesting lineage tree that had to look interesting and contain the most interesting restaurants.  By choosing what they found “interesting” and putting those opinions into print with such a devotional title, they’re making or fostering a trend, not just reflecting one.

Now take note; I personally scoff when someone calls me a “journalist”.  I think of myself more as an observer, or an archivist.  Hell, I’m barely a writer, since most of what gets typed out are words someone spoke to me that I’ve just whittled and honed down into a clear narrative.  I don’t believe my writing about a (delicious) $16 cocktail or an intricately prepared piece of (equally delicious) wild halibut is going to move our culture forward.  Yes, I take pride in the honest presence, focus and respect I try to give to each person I speak with.  But believe me, I know my niche.

Yet I disagree with Chua-Eoan’s statement that the media does not have to advocate.  Hell, I’m a woman.  I believe everyone has to advocate.  Aren’t we supposed to be over inequality and not allowing it to thrive between others?  Shouldn’t those of us who write for and read things like Time Magazine and Eater be smarter than this? Shouldn’t all of us be smarter than this?

So, hell. What is my responsibility in this mess?

I get to choose who I interview, for the most part, with guidance and a final say by my editor, who (is a man and) I adore.  Yes, when I first took on the column for Serious Eats I was told I needed to focus on the “big names”.  But in doing so I was accidentally fostering the idea that those names were the valid ones, the ones to note.  And, incidentally, I have been keeping the “boys club” of the kitchen alive, as only 18 of the chefs I’ve interviewed have been women.  I’ve been lazy by focusing on those others are focusing on, and not fighting harder to promote anyone I believe is doing relevant, passionate, important work in their field.

Maybe I need to find a middle ground between the fennel pollen and the politics.  Maybe I should start thinking more like a journalist.

While I work on that, here are 18 of the extraordinary chefs I’ve interviewed. Who also just happen to be women, too.

Photo of chef Megan Ketover by Jacqueline Raposo

All other photos by Brent Herrig. Using them without permission is illegal. And mean.

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