Do men and women cook differently?


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff Mom Never Told You from howstuffworks.com.

Molly Edmonds: Hello, and welcome to the podcast. This is Molly.

Cristen Conger: And I'm Cristen.

Molly Edmonds: Cristen, I'm going to read you a little bit of an email that came in to us from one of our wonderful listeners. Her name is Sarah, and it caught my eye because the subject line was "11 Hours of SMNTY in the Prep Closet Today."

Cristen Conger: What?

Molly Edmonds: I know. Even I can't stand myself for 11 hours. And she was talking about it so I had to read on. And she goes a little bit into how she followed a weird career path, but has settled on cooking. And she writes, "I spend many many hours a day trimming lamb, cooking the crap out of our awesome bass food, and listening to SMNTY while doing it. I'm actually lucky enough to work in a restaurant where there is an even 50/50 split of females to males total, two prep girls, three female cooks, to zero prep guys and five male cooks. That being said, the culinary side of employment is heavily skewed toward males, which makes a whole lot of crap sense when one considers who does most of the cooking outside a restaurant - not most men. My life in food was blessed and full of amazingly respectful lady friendly guys who knew I could cook just as much booty [she uses another word and I can't remember whether I can say it on the podcast or not] on the line as they can. But I think with just a bit of research, you'll find plenty of fodder for a fine encouraging podcast about the differences between male and female chefs." And lo and behold, we did.

Cristen Conger: Boy was Sarah right. Yeah, there was so much information about this very topic that we could just start having a cooking podcast, Molly.

Molly Edmonds: We could.

Cristen Conger: So today, like Sarah requested, we're going to talk about if women and men indeed cook differently. And also, dig into why it is that head chefs are often men. Why are restaurant kitchens often dominated by men? Because like she points out, women are traditionally the cooks. We've been cooking for people since we started cooking food as people.

Molly Edmonds: Yeah, hunter-gatherers. Who stayed home and cooked the food?

Cristen Conger: We did. So with no further ado, Molly, let's get into this. And let's start at the top. Let's start with the executive chefs and work our way from the restaurant kitchen to the home kitchen, because it's all going to come back there. So I found this article from New York magazine interviewing seen prominent women chefs in New York about this very issue. And they confirm the fact that, as a woman chef not are they among a very small minority, but they also encounter different issues such as mailmen coming into the room and looking for someone else to hand the mail to because a woman couldn't be the head chef. They have a lot of trouble getting financial backing because financiers are more hesitant to give money to women chefs. And they also discuss this issue of whether or not men and women cook differently.

Molly Edmonds: Which will be the main topic of today. But let's dive into that financial thing a little bit more Cristen, because that to me was the most interesting thing. It made a lot of sense. We talked about women in business before. In fact, one of our very first podcasts was about women and negotiation and about how women are more fearful to ask for money to do something - in that case a raise. But that's what all these women chef's say, is that it's a lot harder to go into a group of investors, people who are looking to invest in a restaurant, and say, "I'm going to run this restaurant. I'm the chef. Here's my food." It's much harder for a woman to do that as opposed to a man. The investors seem to seek the men out. They want to see men with business experience that some of these female chefs don't have. And that was what they saw as the real boys' club, not necessarily the coming up in the training kitchens. That's what people say is often the boys' club. But they said it was more the investment financial side that was hard to do.

Cristen Conger: Right. The guys are going out there playing golf together. They're playing poker together and next thing you know, they're male colleagues as Alex Guarnaschelli from Butter put it. She says she'll have male colleagues come up to her and say, "I just met with a big group of investors to open a restaurant." And she says, "I'm looking at them trying to sip my coffee like, 'Yeah, bro. That must be rough.' And I go home and trade in the coffee for Tequila wondering if I did something wrong." Because they're working just as hard and somehow these men are still getting more of a leg up. But it might have to do, too, with the nature of being a chef. It caters more to men, in terms of families and in terms of marriages. With being a head chef, you have to be open and available on nights and weekends, often pulling late night shifts. And some chefs say that's exactly why you don't see more women executive chefs. In the New York magazine article these seven women chefs point out that pastry chef is often the reserved spot for women because it doesn't demand quite the same intensive hours.

Molly Edmonds: And there's less of a sense of competition. Now they also asked the chefs about their training and coming up through professional kitchens. They ask, "Those kitchen seem sort of traditionally shamelessly sexist. Is that true?" And these women made a point of not wanting to play a victim card. They did have experiences where they'd been discriminated against, or the people they were working with were betting against them. They didn't think the women would be able to cut it. But all these women put their head down and worked through it and persevered.

Cristen Conger: Right. Because they wanted to be respected as chefs, not respected as women chefs, kind of like when we were talking about women directors in Hollywood. They don't want to be seen as, "Oh, you're so great for a woman." No, they just want to be respected for their art. And the same thing with these women and food. And just to throw out a couple of stats to back up what we're saying, "According to StarChefs.com, which is run by Antoinette Bruno, a poll found that 91 percent of executive chefs were men - 91 percent, people. And then there was an article in the Huffington Post, talking about Food & Wine's annual list of the best new chefs. And the author points out that, in the best new chefs 2009, there was one out of ten of these chefs who was a woman - Naomi Pomeroy. And it's how it's always been. They had one woman chef in 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005 - and onward. So they still aren't even getting a lot of recognition for what they're doing, coming up through the ranks. But speaking of ranks, Molly, the history of The Kitchen Brigade, that hierarchy that is in most high-end kitchens that you'll see might explain why the restaurant atmosphere is dominated by men.

Molly Edmonds: And let's talk a little bit about what that brigade is before we explain that. Because all of my experience of what it's like in a kitchen is based on movies. So it took me awhile to wrap my head around it.

Cristen Conger: So it's true to live, right?

Molly Edmonds: I'm sure it is. So what we have is an executive chef, assisted by a sous chef. And then below that are chefs who are in charge of certain production stations. So based on how the restaurant has their kitchen structured, you could have a ton of these stations. You could have a sauce station, a fish station, a grill station, fried items, roast, cold foods, a pastries. And they talk about how working your way up is basically putting in your time at all of these stations and getting the go-ahead to ascend to another station.

Cristen Conger: Yeah, because a kitchen has to operate like a well-oiled machine - like an assembly. So you have the saucier who is visibly working on sauces, while the sous chef is doing the prep. The head chef is sort of the general in charge of everything, keeping all the different stations in line. And if it sounds kind of like a military brigade, that's because - lo and behold - the kitchen system is based on European military organization. And we found a great article in the Austin Chronicle written by M.M. Pack, which walks us through the history of the Kitchen Brigade. And Pack says that from the 14th century on, traveling armies had to be fed and cooks were selected from among the ranks. And so as these cooking brigades expanded, and these military cooks would end up cooking for kings and nobility, they would have to prepare these complicated meals and feasts for huge numbers of people. So it became a pretty significant position. And trade guild soon developed, and then you had uniforms for people in these guilds. And the rigid hierarchy started to take the place of the head chefs of the time down to the people doing the prep work and menial tasks. And Pack says that, until after the French Revolution and the rise of restaurants, this cast of cooks continued to work exclusively for the aristocracy. And the classic double-breasted white jacket and hat that chefs wear go back to this time.

Molly Edmonds: And I think this helped me understand why we think of so many chefs as male, Cristen. It's because, starting back from these times when it was time to go into battle, cooking was a profession for men. Whereas, it's something we expect women to do just as part of their nurturing role. Someone's got to feed that family. The mother starts out feeding the family through breast feeding. It's only natural that she would continue to oversee the children's meals as they grow.

Cristen Conger: Now, Molly, the idea you brought up of women cooking as an act of love, is a concept that Mike Weiss from The San Francisco Chronicle dug into in his 2007 article. Because he had the same idea of, well do men and women cook differently? And his theory going into this little culinary adventure was, yes. Women do cook differently because they put more of a nurturing air into it. And he refers to it as Mama Food.

Molly Edmonds: Now we should note, as the title of the paper might imply, San Francisco Chronicle, this is happening in California. And many of these articles we read made a note that California is one place where women have achieved some culinary equality in the kitchen. Most notably, Alice Waters - Cristen's favorite note about Alice Waters is her nickname.

Cristen Conger: Her nickname, Th e Renegade Lunch Lady.

Molly Edmonds: But all the articles pointed out that she chose not to run her kitchen in that traditional kitchen-style brigade. Everyone just worked together and her restaurant's acclaimed. So he was going around to these different restaurants in San Francisco because he'd had his most memorable meals there. And coincidentally all of his most memorably meals were cooked by women. So it was surprising to me when he went and interviewed the female chefs who cooked his memorable meals. They agreed with his hypothesis to an extent. Yes, women did have creativity around food, but it was usually based on their desire to put something good in your body, to nurture your body with what they were giving you. Whereas, guys who pursued becoming a chef were more interested in the molecular gastronomy, cooking with a science set, they called it. The show-off cooking.

Cristen Conger: Right. With show-off cooking, there was a fad in the '90s of having tall food, plates where the dishes were built up and had a vertical element to it. That was the prime example of this show-off food that was promoted by male chefs. Whereas, women were focusing more on the flavors. And I would say, just from the research that I've done, this idea of Mama Food versus show-off food is a pretty pervasive notion in the culinary world. For instance, there was a blog post on Serious Eats by Ed Levine who participated in a taste test panel to find out whether you could tell the difference between men's food and women's food. And he pointed out that there are a lot of preconceived notions and clichés about the differences between male and female chefs. And among them, for instance, Levine points out the thought that women chefs will use spices more subtly than men. Male chefs will use a lot of toys in their cooking. For instance, with all of the molecular gastronomy stuff that's going on now. Female chefs like to nurture and feed people's souls, while male chefs are looking to compete and impress. And women chefs will be more precise and follow more instructions, whereas the men will go a little more haywire. And then I thought this was funny - Levine says that male chefs like to cook red meat, whereas female chefs are more likely to cook pink food and use edible flowers. And the interesting thing is, from the panel, Levine concluded that while gender does affect how chefs cook, they couldn't discern whether or not a meal was cooked by a male or female chef. And he says the thing that has the most influence over a person's cooking style isn't gender, but rather how they were trained. So I think it's interesting that Alice Waters doesn't follow the brigade style and molds her sous chefs and the other cooks under her to a different style. And I'll be that influences how the male chefs in her restaurant are cooking.

Molly Edmonds: One thing that came out of that Levine piece that struck me, was they were talking about whether they could tell which meal was cooked by which gender. And they talked about how there was some culinary cross-dressing, in that the male chef produced something that was very pink and did have a flower. And the female chef produced a hard core meat dish. And I don't remember what the dishes were at this exact moment, but I think there does seem to be that awareness that we're cooking differently and we may be cooking for different reasons. But even in the Weiss San Francisco Chronicle article, there was a little bit of discomfort in admitting that, because it seems like such a backwards thing to admit. But like I said, when you read some of these quotes by the female chefs, you're like, "Wow. I wouldn't have said that myself. But I guess it's true."

Cristen Conger: And it might seem like a silly topic to even discuss. As long as food tastes good, who cares whether or not men and women cook differently? But I think it's also important to talk about. I think it's this idea of men being the head chefs in restaurants whereas women are the head chefs at home. It's fascinating because for so long, cooking has been completely reserved for women. It embodies this socialized idea of women as the nurturers and the givers, the ones who are at home raising the families. Where, on the flipside, men are able to pursue cooking as a career.

Molly Edmonds: Right. And one of the things that was pointed out in that article from San Francisco was, the whole reason we have show-of cooking was because the men had to do something to differentiate it from cooking for the home. They had to do something in terms of adding more toys to the equation, adding more exotic ingredients, adding something so that when that food got to your plate you'd have to admit a woman couldn't have done this. That's the way it seemed to me. I don't know if I'm reading too much into it.

Cristen Conger: That was never overtly stated, but I think you're exactly right. But today, restaurant kitchens are absolutely dominated by men. We go back to that 91 percent stat that I threw out earlier - 91 percent of kitchens are run by male executive chefs. But I think what is going to be interesting to watch for is how this male element in the restaurant kitchen is affecting the male element in kitchens at home. Time magazine pointed out that there has been a rise lately in "dude food." And we're talking about all of these male food personalities that have risen up - the male Rachael Rays if you will - who have become prominent on food television. For instance, we have people like Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, The Cake Boss, Bobby Flay, Ted Allen - all these guys who've become prominent, not just for being male chefs, but cooking what Time magazine calls "dude food." Making cooking accessible for guys at home - and it's not just the grill thing. Men have been the grill masters since the days of Don Draper. But now they're actually transitioning men into the kitchen, making it more fashionable, accessible, and more masculine for men to get into the kitchen and make a fabulous meal.

Molly Edmonds: And speaking of all of these alpha male chefs that are on television, I want to throw out some statistics from an article from Ad Week that blew my mind. It was actually an article about toys, which we'll get into in a minute. They were talking about ho w the male audience for a show like Iron Chef - overall male audience for Iron Chef America is 36 percent. But if you just look at the 2-11 age bracket - boys aged 2-11 - it jumps to 45 percent. And they say that holds true for quite a few of these cooking shows. Young boys are the biggest fast of them. And this was relevant to this article about toys. Because if you think of things like Easy Bake Ovens and plastic kitchens, all of that is marketed to girls. So it was really saying that these boys want to be part of this from a young age. They're seeing how cool it is on television. They basically want one of those plastic kitchens from Toys R Us to play with, but they'll get to the store and it's there between the Barbies and other dolls. And that's when they get the message, "Oh, cooking is a girl thing. You can't do that." And it was about how some of these toy companies are trying to bring boys more into this. But they're still encountering resistance from the dads.

Cristen Conger: And some of the companies are still holding fast to, "No, no, no. We have the most marketing success with targeting these toys at girls. We're going to stick with it." But I think that's changin a lot, at least according to the Ad Week article. So the question in my mind is, the women certainly do the lion's share of cooking at home. That's still exactly the way it is. But I wonder whether this movement to bring more men into the kitchen and get more men interested in cooking at home, if that's going to have any impact at all on the gender politics in restaurant kitchens. I think it's going to dismantle this divide between home cooking as a woman's purview and professional cooking as something reserved for men. Do you know what I'm saying?

Molly Edmonds: I do. I do think it's a broad statement to make, but we might be in the middle of a generational shift. All these young boys that are growing up with these shows with very strong male personalities will get interested in cooking and may do cooking from a young age in their house. Whether it's something they go on to pursue professionally, that remains to be seen. But the fact that do have more boys in the kitchen may help drive that. I agree.

Cristen Conger: So Molly, I think that we've talked enough about this topic. I'm curious to know what our listeners think about this. And I'm sure we've got plenty of listeners out there, Molly, who are working in kitchens right now. And I would love to hear from you guys and girls and know whether or not - Molly and I aren't working in a kitchen. Maybe we're totally off the mark. Or maybe we're spot on. Let us know your thoughts on this idea of male cooking versus female cooking. And we have just hit on the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

Molly Edmonds: The appetizer course if you will.

Cristen Conger: Yes. When it comes to gender and cooking, there is so much more that we could talk about. So this is really just the start of the conversation. So let us hear from you, momstuff@howstuffworks.com.

Molly Edmonds: And I'll read an email from someone who wrote in. This is from Sarah, but not the Sarah I mentioned at the beginning of the show. Another Sarah wrote about the podcast episode, Why Do Men Propose? "Not all of us ladies are afraid to kick the norms. My now fiancé mentioned that after we'd been dating about six months, that he wasn't interested in relationships that aren't marriage and family bound. No pressure, but if I ever realized that I wasn't that serious, it would be time for quits. I took another six months to think about it and one morning I proposed apropos nothing. I have a full-time salary while he scrapes by on music commission, so we both knew it was going to have to be my decision. We went together and picked matching copper rings for $5.00. And now a year later and we'll be married this Saturday." So happy wedding? Best wishes?

Cristen Conger: Absolutely.

Molly Edmonds: "I'm the breadwinner while he stays home and tends the garden, does the laundry and dishes, and fixes up the house. He makes a little money with his music. We both cook and clean, and yes I am wearing a white dress and taking his name. So I say, hetero ladies of the world, don't you don't dare marry a man you couldn't propose to, even if it happens that you didn't. And don't let silly magazines and blogs tell you not to pull the trigger yourself. They certainly don't speak for everyone."

Cristen Conger: All right. I've got an email here from Kristen, and not myself. Her letter is in relation to our Condoms, Condoms, Condoms episode. She's got a little story for us about when she was a young wife and mother living in rural West Cork, Ireland. So she went to the village to visit the chemist - which is what they call a pharmacy over there - and she screwed up her courage to the sticking point and boldly asked for some condoms. She said, "My husband had bought condoms in Dublin and Cork City. So even though Ireland is a Catholic state, I knew condoms were available. This was the late 1990s for crying out loud. Anyhow, the elderly lady behind the counter gave me the dirtiest look I've ever been given and in a scandalized voice with a thick West Cork accent said, 'We certainly don't sell such things.' Just try and imagine how embarrassing that was. And it was crowded at the cash register. And it was my own tiny village, my neighbors crowding around the register to see me turn beet red. Turns out in Ireland, individual pharmacies can choose whether to sell condoms and facilitate their customers going to hell or they can take the moral high ground." Thank you, Kristen, for maybe one of the most unique condom buying stories I've ever heard.

Molly Edmonds: There are some more coming. You guys have some unique condom buying stories.

Cristen Conger: Love the condom stories.

Molly Edmonds: And they are wonderful. So whether you want to talk about condoms or cooking, give us an email. It's momstuff@howstuffworks.com. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook. So anytime you're on the Internet we should be close to you.

Cristen Conger: Stalk us on line, basically.

Molly Edmonds: Including our blog. It's called Stuff Mom Never Told You and it's at howstuffworks.com.

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