Having looked at the challenges involved in being a woman chef, we can now explore with greater appreciation the achievements of those who have surmounted the obstacles and opened the doors for what is becoming a golden age of female chefs. With an arsenal of restaurant equipment, talent, and above all, perseverance, outstanding women can succeed in the restaurant business. From Julia Child to Traci Des Jardins, these top-notch industry professionals have cleared the path for unprecedented numbers of female culinary arts school students.
Heroines of the Commercial Kitchen
A little-known but important fact is that the Culinary Institute of America was founded in the 1940’s by two women, Frances Roth and Katharine Angell. Their school continues to flourish and its website proudly quotes Iron Chef’s Cat Cora as saying that Julia Child referred to the CIA as “the Harvard of culinary schools.” Perhaps the first woman chef to become a true household name, Julia Child’s reputation has stood the test of time. By introducing genuine French cooking to homes across the country and around the world, she helped to gain normalcy for the idea of a female chef specializing in fine cuisine. Alice Waters, a veteran restaurant owner, became in 1992 the first woman to receive the James Beard award for Outstanding Chef. In France, Anne-Sophie Pic was the first woman in fifty years to achieve a rating of three Michelin stars. Traci DesJardins continues to inspire female industry professionals with her rare ability to balance both motherhood and multiple highly successful California restaurants.
The New Generation of Female Chefs
These women paved the way, but it appears that the best is yet to come. Not only are women chefs filling pastry kitchen positions – since pastry chefs generally enjoy more traditional schedules than those on the hot line – but the Culinary Institute of America’s female enrollment has risen to close to fifty percent of the total student population. This figure marks a significant milestone, but even more encouraging is the fact that the school hosted the 2010 American national selection for the grueling Lyon chef competition, the Bocuse d’Or, which included one female chef and two female assistants. In 2009, three women served as commis out of a total of eight. Commis are required to be no older than 23 to compete, leading Daphne Duquesne of Gastronomista to predict a bright future for the female culinary world.
Despite the fact that commercial kitchens still feature almost exclusively male chefs, the hard work and dedication of female chefs past and present finally seems to be paying off. Women chefs can be considered an anomaly no longer. Better still, many females in this industry are at last being recognized as chefs, not “woman chefs.”