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James Beard Foundation Honors Female Chefs at GalaBy Kirsten Stamn | November 18, 2013 By Kirsten Stamn | November 18, 2013
There was perhaps no better timing on the part of the James Beard Foundation than on Friday night, when they gathered some of the most influential female chefs in the country—like Dominique Crenn, Kristen Kish, Barbara Lynch, Merry Edwards, Audrey Saunders, Melissa Kelly and Sherry Yard—for their Women in Whites gala at The Four Seasons Restaurant. And true to the night’s ethos, everything from the bread (baked from the all-woman collaborative Hot Bread Kitchen) to the wine pairings to the five-course dinner were created exclusively by women.
“Tonight is about acknowledging just a tiny percentage of these women, women who make incredible cocktails and exceptional pastries, who cook at some of the best and own some of the best restaurants in this industry,” said Gail Simmons, one of the night’s honorary event chairs along with Martha Stewart and Tyra Banks. Stewart was equally enthused: “It’s our foremost culinary foundation here in the United States...and with women holding the top jobs in only about 5% of the companies here...supporting them and encouraging them to move up in their jobs is good.”
The night’s festivities came shortly after the ignition of a raging international debate—catalyzed by an infamous Time Magazine article—about sexism pervading both kitchens and food media today. Simmons weighed in:
I think the Time piece was not the problem. I think it was an outcome of a larger issue...The industry is notoriously male-dominated and there are reasons, not because men are bad and women are good. It’s more complicated than that. I think that women have always faced more challenges working in the restaurant industry because it’s a very difficult, physically challenging industry that is evenings, weekends and holidays...How old were the men on the cover of the magazine? All between the ages of 35 and 50, right? Those years are complicated years for women if you want to work as hard as so many women in this industry want to work and have a family. And that’s from a biological perspective. I left kitchens quite purposefully because I knew I wanted this. [gestures at pregnant belly]
That’s not to say you can’t do it: Barbara Lynch, Suzanne Goin, Alice Waters...all have children, so that’s not to say that’s the issue or that it’s not possible, it’s just a bigger piece of the conversation that’s not being talked about. This is to say there are so many women that are doing such incredible work every day in the world of restaurants and in our food system that it’s a shame that they are not getting the acknowledgement they deserve…[tonight] is just about giving us the opportunity to roar once in a while, because so often we’re out-roared by others.
Check out some photos from the evening below by Ken Goodman.