Good food. Good friends. Good spirits.

“Laughing at your mistakes can lengthen your life” 
- Shakespeare

What  struck me  most was  Manoj Pai’s chef’s hat. Well positioned and truly defined the task at hand. Nevermind that infectious smile and tons of enthusiasm. I am talking about the Ontario Konkani Association Shravan cookalong. That chef’s hat told the story in bold letters, that the kitchen does not have to be only a woman’s domain. Given an opportunity men can be versatile and creative in the kitchen too, and at least helpful. Full credit to our presidents, Anita and Vivek Nayak for giving Konkani folks of both genders an equal forum to display their culinary skills. That is the true leadership of an equal opportunity “employer”. Kudos!!! 

While being respectful of  stereotyping and gender biases, historically women embraced the role of feeding the family at home. “Mom” is a word that defines the celestial virtues of compassion, kindness, and respect.  After all the phrase  “Maa ke hath ka khana” (home made food by mom) rules the world versus “pitajike hath ka khana” (order from Uber). 

It is more than just the cooking of meals. Creating something from scratch, solely through your own doing, as a comfort for yourself and family members should make anyone feel good about themselves. Add to that the kindness and respect for what the body wants leading to better overall health. The phrase “Kitchen is the heart of the home”  says it all.

Extrapolating from these motherly qualities, you would expect women to rule as head chefs in leading restaurants and even host  shows like Master Chef, Hell’s Kitchen and for that matter Khana khajana. Surprise!Surprise!! But instead the hosts are invariably male. Not only that, the hospitality industry is dominated by male chefs. As one data point, enrollment in culinary schools is 75% male. Even  Growing up in India whenever we had a big function we always had a male coming to  chef meals, nevermind it was always a male in dhoti. The word “bawarchi” literally means a male chef. 

This difference in gender between at home versus outside begs the  question, why are so few of the top restaurants with female chefs ?

According to one survey, the answer may have  something to do with the preferences of the patrons. The Gastronomy Association of England conducted a year-long survey and asked people who they preferred as chefs. The findings were startling because even women clients found male chefs to be better than female chefs. One may say that this is purely an error in perception because female chefs are as good as male chefs. The survey even is quoted as saying that female chefs lacked innovation and were less experimental than their male counterparts. 

Many of you may disagree. In my household, the female chef has for many years also been the more creative and innovative chef! 

Angela Hartnett is one of the best chefs in England. She is a joint owner of five excellent restaurants, three of which have women installed as head chefs. Though contrary to how she runs her businesses, even Angela believes that female chefs are more hesitant to go beyond the conventional when it comes to experimenting with food.

Even science may be ganging up against more women becoming top chefs.  It is believed that biologically women have a slightly less sensitive  sense of smell than men. Smell plays a very important role in cooking. All chefs are endowed with fantabulous olfactory senses. There’s a Greek term ‘Keroza’. It means, the ability to distinguish the smell or aroma of a food item after putting salt and spices. The female olfactory nerves often fail to differentiate between the salted and spiced forms. Male olfactory nerves can naturally distinguish this extremely subtle difference which is also known as ‘Naghaish’.

Well, my views tend to differ from these studies. Just look at the tyrant behavior of Chef Ramsey, really how many women would act like that. Add to that the  pressure cooker environment, sexism and  shift work probably does not fit the feminine domain.Never mind the physically demanding work and putting up with testosterone fuelled rage.

All said and done, where male chefs miserably lack is the department of emotional involvement. Female chefs are far ahead of them on this count. Male chefs may cook more innovatively, but they can’t cook emotionally like Mom. 

Finally, I saw a sign in restaurant recently, that sums up the whole debate:

“A chef must think like a scientist, organise like an accountant, plate like an artist and cook like a grandma.”

Those words should put this debate to rest. I will be happy to hear your three C’s, comments, criticism and compliments.

As for the chef’s quiz: What do each of the following chef’s specialise in?

1)Pantry chef 2) Executive chef 3) Sous chef 4) Station chef

About the author…
Madhav Shanbhag moved to GTA in 2017, after spending more than 40 years in Fredericton, New Brunswick. In retirement, Madhav enjoys the luxury of few hours of leisure and nature time