“You can’t handle the stress the rush brings.” “Women are too sensitive to be near the fire, burning oil, hot ovens, grills, and knives.” “This is gonna be too hard for a little girl like you.” All these (and worse) have been said to my face by sous chefs, head chefs, and even advisers of the kitchen. Ever since I was sixteen, I have been the youngest and only girl working in the kitchen, usually working alongside 20+ year olds who attended the Culinary institute of America, and other prestigious universities studying the art of cooking. Unfortunately, with great success comes a very ugly ego. Way too many chefs think acting as power hungry and psychopathic as possible with their staff and coworkers is “the” way to be a good chef. And it isn’t.
More often than not, there’s some blatant misogyny going on behind the kitchen doors in your local restaurant. While the front of the house has several women on the floor, the back of the house is predominately dominated by men. Did you know, 4.7% of chefs and head cooks in the US are female? A common gender stereotype is that if there is a woman in the kitchen, she’s a pastry chef. The average female server makes 68% of what male servers make. These statements highlight how gender roles in the restaurant industry make such a difference in how we are paid, treated, and judged. The restaurant industry is also the largest source of sexual harassment claims.
Why do I still work in restaurants? Because I want to use all the criticism, judgement, harassment, hazing, and sexism I have experienced to push myself and encourage others who want to be great chefs to have patience, be punctual, prove others wrong, and to remember that you must not let anyone define your limits because of your gender, age, ethnicity, background, height, weight or skin. Your only limit is your soul.