My Responsibilities as a Chef Part Three: Pushing the Limits

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As a student in culinary school, I first learned how to develop delicious flavor.  I learned to let nothing go to waste, to honor history and location.

I then learned about the environmental impact of our food choices and how to balance nutrition and budget.

Now it’s time to take what I’ve learned as a Chef and grow.  It’s time to Start Pushing the Limits.

My Responsibilities as a Chef Part Three:

Pushing the Limits

 

Seventh Responsibility: Engage in the Sexual Revolution

There [is] plenty … that women have to deal with in kitchens. It’s like you have an extra part-time job on top of your intense and difficult job; that’s dealing with the emotional fallout of being a woman and having to be a little resistance fighter to get what you want. The kitchen can be such a competitive environment, and there’s almost a toxic masculinity a lot of times in kitchens. 

— Splendid Table Podcast: Conflict and Comradery in Restaurant Kitchens

 

There is a revolution underfoot.  Some call it #metoo.  Some call it liberation.  Whatever the label, we can agree that women are finally starting to get the recognition we’ve merited for generations.

This voice is even becoming louder in the kitchen, but it needs more.  The cooks and wait staff who serve you, fellow industry professionals who live in this world, know that it’s mostly a boys club.  Even if your dining room is full of females in black skirts, it’s often men with big checkbooks that run most food establishments.  The women all have anecdotes.  Maybe we never were trapped in the walk-in cooler, but we can all trade a few stories.

There are the male diners who get away with crudely groping their waitresses simply because they are college friends with the owners.  There are the chefs who make raunchy jokes, differentiating jelly and jam as “Well, I can’t JELLY my dick in your pussy”.  Those of us inside the family know the abuse well.  Like a family, we often brush abuse and unfair conditions under the table, the same way you can brush off an uncle who voted for the other political party.   It’s just part of the family…part of the job.

Food and Wine Festival: Count the Number of Female Chefs

Sometimes the discrepancies are not so obvious.  Look at any “Best Chef’s” photo from the past 10 years.  It doesn’t matter if it comes from Food and Wine, Time Magazine, or James Beard; it’s hard to find the women in the picture.  Look at the cooking shows on American television.  How many male chefs can you name?  Gordon, Mario, Emeril, Bobby, Guy.  And how many women?  Giada?  Rachel?  The picture is always skewed toward male dominance.  For every 1 woman, you will likely find triple the number of men.  The irony is that women carry the primary cooking duties in a majority of households all over the world.  Yet, our modern food culture often keeps women in the professional role of cupcake-maker and assistant pastry chef.

 

Much of this can be blamed on the rigorous restaurant lifestyle.  As Chef Amy Thielen discussed in a recent interview, the kitchen doesn’t allow much room for a personal life.  You have no weekends off, no free nights, and no personal days stay home with your sick child.  Most places don’t offer health care, which tends to affect women more deeply, as we require exams and medications for birth control and pregnancy while men can skate by for years without seeing a doctor.  Paid sick leave or maternity leave is a necessity for people with office jobs, but these benefits are a pipedream rarely found among the people who scrape your plates and fold your napkins.  The incredibly demanding physical lifestyle takes no prisoners, no pregnant women, no single mothers.

My Mission: Educate and Motivate to Support Women

We need support.  We need you, on the outside, to also notice and speak up.  As a diner, you are empowered to make a difference.  Are you ready to create change?

Let your dollar be a vote in what you support.

Are you ready to pay $15 for a salad instead of $10 if it means the dishwasher gets a personal day once a month?

Are you prepared to give up your unlimited coffee refills if it meant your waitress gets paid $12/hour instead of $8?

Would you be willing to forgo a restaurant run by a man facing countless lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct?  Even if that food establishment was something as beloved as Eately ?

Are you willing to seek out restaurants run by female chefs?  To make an extra effort to visit places, even if the critics won’t, to taste the cuisine for yourself?

As a female chef, running my own business, I also bear much responsibility.  I am lucky to have only worked under female bosses, where sex was never an issue.  Male or female, we simply had to get the job done with the highest level of excellence.  I worked in kitchens where flavor and beautiful plating always mattered more than whether you had a bun or a beard.  In my own kitchen, my food speaks for itself.  I mentor and hire regardless of gender.  I connect with other female entrepreneurs, combining our energies so that our joined voices can speak louder together.  The revolution has started.  We are bear a role in creating change, and we must continue to push ourselves further to continue to evolve.

Female Chefs and Female-Run Restaurants:

Hot Chocolate (Chicago)

Elizabeth (Chicago)

Girl and the Goat, Little Goat (Chicago)

Naha (Chicago)

Monteverde (Chicago)

Elizabeth Faulkner (San Francisco)

Prune (NYC)

For other locations, check out this Map and List on Gayot

Eighth Responsibility:  Food that Fills

Foodstuffs absolved of the obligation to provide vitamins and minerals cavorted with reckless abandon.
Michael Lewis

There is another revolution underfoot.  It is not nearly as sexy as female empowerment.  It likely will never be a big benefactor from a Kickstarter campaign.  This revolution contradicts so much of what we think we know that it takes truly open minds to embrace its message:

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges, No Oil Needed

No More Empty Calories

Our Standard American Diet is based on empty calories.  They come from white flour, white sugar, and refined oils.  They appear in sandwich bread, cookies, and potato chips.  They also show up in vegan granola bars, low-fat frozen yogurt, and organic salad dressings.  The food industry has spent billions of dollars trying to convince us to keep eating these foods, and we are suffering because of it.  Obesity rates are higher than ever.  The top killers of Americans are preventable diseases: heart attacks, diabetes, stroke.

The concept of Calorie Density plays a role — the more calorie-dense a food is, the more likely you are to overeat on it.  Calorie density is directly tied to refined and processed foods.  The more refined something is, the more it has been stripped of its nutrition.  Take a whole sugar cane, strip it of its fibrous stalk, and you are left with pure calories, zero nutrition.  These are called “Empty Calories“.

They leave you overfed and undernourished.  You eat more, seeking nutrition. You gain weight, confused why you’re always hungry and tired.  These foods hit your pleasure center for a brief moment, then leave you addicted, craving another “hit”.

My Mission: No More Empty Calories

PB and J Chewy Oat Bites – made with whole foods…no empty calories

I am on a mission to get rid of empty calories.  As someone who has struggled with overeating, the concept of moderation never worked for me.  Even eating what I considered healthy foods, I was overweight much of my life.  This led to frustration and destructive self-perception as I seemed to be a failure at keeping my own health in-check.  Now I know:  It wasn’t my fault.

Refined white flour, white sugar, butter?  Empty calories.

Coconut sugar, date sugar, olive oil?  Empty calories.

Maple syrup?  Honey?  Agave?  All calories, minimal nutrition = Empty calories.

They all lack fiber, an important nutrient that helps prevent a blood sugar spike and helps you feel satiation.  These all leave you overfed yet hungry for more.  They can easily trigger food addictions as you feel compelled to eat more and more and more and more.  You may be eating some of these “health” foods and yet feel helpless when you haven’t been able to lose weight or feel better.

I’m on a mission to replace these empty-calorie foods with whole foods.  Dates and golden raisins replace sugar.  Bananas, applesauce, avocadoes, and sesame seed paste replace oil.  Mixes of whole grain flours like spelt, oat, brown rice, and whole wheat pastry flour replace the texture of white flour.  I want the recipes I create to be both delicious and nourishing.  I want to help you feel empowered in staying healthy.  I will use my training and learning as a chef to create the most delicious recipes that also leave you feeling nourished and satisfied.

 

My Responsibility to You:  Always Live up to the Title “Chef”

There are many layers to this title “Chef”.   The history brings deep respect and humility.  The connection to the earth brings gratitude.  The pleasure to feed someone brings the deepest joy.   I hope in sharing my mission, you appreciate the many layers of this beautiful Culinary Art.  Just like the leaves of an artichoke, you can peel back one layer at a time.  Each layer reveals a deeper appreciation, a richer flavor.  And at the core of it all is the heart – the tender, sweet center.  The artichoke is my insignia: let these layers been bound by a sweet, tender heart.

The beautiful, layered artichoke

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