Traditionally, It has always been the role of the women to toil in the kitchen and provide sustenance for the family, so you’d think that professionally, this should be a role that we easily dominate. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Perhaps it’s not so much the role as the fact that women have always had a hard time competing in the work force because of their stereotypical role of staying at home while the men went out to earn the money.
The past decades have been marked by several notable changes in women’s labor force activities compared to men’s, however, including rising labor force participation, employment growth in higher-paying occupations, and earnings increases. In 1970, about 43 percent of women age 16 and older were in the labor force. By the late 1990s, the labor force participation rate of women had risen to 60 percent.
According to WACS (World Association of Chefs Societies), in the last 20 years, the number of women chefs has dramatically increased. In the US, we now have a woman Iron Chef, professional chefs who host their own TV shows and, overall, statistics say that 25 percent of food and beverage establishments are owned by women. It was also reported that the number of male and female students enrolled in culinary schools are equal.
The latest statistics of the Bureau of Labor puts women chefs and head cooks at 20.7 percent. Still a long way to go, but it’s an improvement. Here are some notable women chefs who have raised the bar for their kind in the cooking industry.
The “French chef” best known for bringing French cuisine to America’s mainstream. She wrote or co-authored at least 15 cookbooks, including “The Way To Cook,” a 544-page book with more than 800 recipes and 600 color photographs, in 1989. She won the first Emmy awarded to a public television personality in 1966 and earned a Peabody Award “for distinguished achievement in television” in 1965. When she retired, she donated her kitchen, which her husband designed with high counters to accommodate her formidable height, and which served as the set for three of her television series, to the National Museum of American History, where it is now on display. She died of kidney failure in August 13, 2004. Her life was detailed in the 2009 movie Julie and Julia where she was portrayed by Meryl Streep, who got an Oscar nomination for the role.
She is the multi-awarded restaurant promoter and co-owner of Chez Panisse, the original “California Cuisine” restaurant in Berkeley, California, as well as the informal Café Fanny in West Berkeley. She advocates eating locally produced foods that are in season as she believes that the international shipment of mass-produced food is both harmful to the environment and produces an inferior product for the consumer. Among her awards – one of the ten best chefs of the world by Cuisine et Vins de France back in 1986 and the best chef of America by the James Beard Foundation (the food “Oscars”) in 1992.
In 2005, she made television history on Food Network’s Iron Chef America as the first and only female Iron Chef, and in November 2006 Bon Appétit bestowed her with their Teacher of the Year Award, an award she calls, “the greatest recognition she could achieve as a chef.” That month, she was also honored with another great culinary distinction when she was named executive chef of the magazine.
She made history by being appointed as the first woman and first minority (she’s a Filipina) to serve as Executive chef of the most famous house in America – the White House. The First Lady Laura Bush did the honors in 2005 and in 2009, Mrs. Michelle Obama reappointed Comerford because of her passion and emphasis for healthy eating. Her many responsibilities include designing and executing menus for official dinners, social events, and family entertaining.
The queen of Italian-American cooking is a cookbook author, restaurateur, and one of the best-loved chefs on television. She is also a founder of the International Association of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, which helps women who want to enter the field. “Opportunity is very important to me,” she says. “The culinary industry has been very hard for women, especially financially.”
One of the most popular TV celebrity chefs today. She hosts the syndicated talk and lifestyle program Rachael Ray and three Food Network series, 30 Minute Meals, Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels and $40 a Day. She wrote cookbooks based on the 30 Minute Meals concept, and launched a magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, in 2006. Her distinctions – two of her shows have won Daytime Emmy Awards, she was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2006 and she has repeatedly been featured on Forbes magazine for earning millions and being one of the most powerful celebrities in the world.