Sex on a Plate (And Do We Even Care?)

Gender stereotypes abound, but when it comes to food and cooking, do men and women cook differently? Can you tell by looking at your plate whether a dish has been created by a man or a woman? Are women really more nurturing and drawn to simplicity, while men are more ego-driven and concerned with technique? That’s what an article in the London Times is saying.

Citing examples of the seasonal simplicity and focus on ingredients found in restaurants led by female chefs (Chez Panisse, River Café), compared to the technical, scientific “wizardry” of male-led restaurants (Fat Duck, El Bulli, Alinea), the author makes some pretty broad assessments: molecular gastronomy=male, California cuisine=female.

There are chefs who agree with this, including Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters and Skye Gyngell of Petersham Nurseries. “I’ve had endless conversations with female chefs about this,” says Gyngell, “and I think men are much more ego-bound and competitive and their food is often more showy. … Women don’t have that desire to make a big impact in the same way.”

The Times even puts this idea to the test, asking two young chefs to prepare dishes of their choice. Can you guess who made the pigeon with foie gras?

In San Francisco, male chef and soon-to-be-restaurateur Brett, of the food blog in praise of sardines, takes issue with the article. “Based on the author’s criteria,” he writes, “I’m quite sure that I cook like a girl.” It’s something he’s proud of. But he thinks such sweeping statements are off the mark. “[S]ome of the most bad-ass swaggering macho competitive cooks I’ve worked with happen to be women,” he says.

Ms. Keating’s premise is a heap of rubbish. Do we really need one more way to encourage pointless stereotypes? Didn’t we get enough of that Martian men/Venutian women crap at the end of the last century? Aren’t there some factors that are perhaps a wee bit more significant in influencing how someone cooks than which sex organs he or she is born with?

The comments Brett is getting in response are fun. “I totally cook like a tom-boy,” writes one commenter. “[G]irly but sometimes have a masculine pose.” Another reader claims, “I cook bi. Sometimes elaborate … Sometimes pared down.” Though perhaps the final word comes from the commenter who says, “‘Who cares?’ The important thing is the food. Forget knife-throwing women and nurturing men and concentrate on what tastes good and why it does.”

See more articles
Share this article: