Game Changers: An Introduction
A column dedicated to the women in food and hospitality who are shifting the conversation around gastronomy, travel, and culture.
Last week, San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn, the so named World’s Best Female Chef by San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016 List, made news when she got wind of a serious gender bias at the hands of San Pellegrino’s 2018 Young Chef competition. On September 4, Parabere Forum, a non-profit that gives voice to women’s views on food issues around the world and has been pointed about male-female ratios at food events and award ceremonies in the past, posted screenshots of the nine jury panels for the competition, which included 37 jurors from 21 different regions that would be judging the young chefs. The kicker? The jurors were all men.
Following Parabere Forum’s lead, on September 5, Crenn re-posted the image with commentary chastising San Pellegrino, insulting their leadership skills and asking them to evolve. “I thought we all got the memo that women are 50 percent of the population,” wrote Crenn in a candid and critical post. Swift media backlash ensued. This isn’t the first time that Crenn has spoken out against gender bias in the food industry. At an April 2017 World’s 50 Best panel, she clapped back at a question referencing motherhood. “We need to stop pretending that we are all the same, but I also think we need to change the conversation around this,” explaining that making choices about career and personal life is not exclusive to women, or even chefs.
While San Pellegrino has since pointed out that there are women jurors in regions that were not pictured in the post — including April Bloomfield and Daniela Soto-Innes for the U.S. and Ana Ros for Eastern Europe — for a total of 14 female jurors out of 100, this isn’t the first time that gender bias in the food industry has come up. It also isn’t the first time that San Pellegrino and World’s 50 Best have been the transgressors. When Crenn won the World’s Best Female Chef award in 2016, her Atelier Crenn didn’t even make the list, debuting the following year (2017) at number (wait for it…) 83! Further, only three women — Pía León of Central, Elena Arzak of Arzak, and Daniela Soto-Innes of Cosme — are currently anointed. Notably, each shares that honor with a male partner/chef.
The Culinary Institute of America announced earlier this year that, for the first time since 1946 when the CIA opened, female students outnumber male students.
Yet, interestingly, The Culinary Institute of America announced earlier this year that, for the first time since 1946 when the CIA opened, female students outnumber male students. In that first graduating class, just one of the 50 students was female. Today? 51.6% of the esteemed culinary program’s students are women. Speaking to the Huffington Post, CIA Vice President Dr. Jackie Nealon explained that the growth is in part attributed to the fact that “women-owned food business is growing at a fast rate, which offers more and more opportunity for women to have a work-life balance.” Such role models inspire young female chefs.
But the media and the buzz-worthy conferences and award programs need to play some serious catch up. Disparity in male-female coverage and accolade isn’t a new topic with publications from the New York Times to Eater and writers from Anthony Bourdain to Pete Wells taking notice. Lauded food programming like Netflix’s Chefs Table features only five (of 22) female chefs, and while once upon a time Julia Child and Martha Stewart domestic types were the dominant image of women in the kitchen, nowadays that image is stale. Women in food are kicking ass; they’re butchers and foragers, they’re farmers and fisherwomen, they’re cutting-edge food activists and advocates. Where are these stories? And why, when they are told, do they feel so few and far between?
When we looked around, we at New Worlder couldn’t understand why there’s such a dearth of women-specific coverage. After all, top editorial positions in food media, at least in the U.S., are dominated by women. There’s Amanda Kludt and Helen Rosner at Eater, Food & Wine has Jordana Rothman; Food52 was started by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. Rachael Ray is the brand. Even Martha’s still around and freshening up her image pairing with Snoop. Add food talent across the media world from Kim Severson to Florence Fabricant, Melissa Clark to Ligya Mishan at the New York Times; Beth Kracklauer at The Wall Street Journal; and until recently Christine Muhlke, Rachel Khong, Dana Cowin and Nilou Motamed were the executive editors at Bon Appétit, Lucky Peach, and Food & Wine, respectively. Make no mistake; I’m not pointing fingers at any of these women – I applaud each and every one of them; we’re all each others’ champions and collaborators — I’m merely highlighting the playing field. Women are everywhere in food, except being celebrated as wholeheartedly as men. Even the staff of this site is 75 percent female. So why aren’t we hearing more about the great female chefs, the rock star food influencers, and generally, seeing more female stories?
Women in food are kicking ass; they’re butchers and foragers, they’re farmers and fisherwomen, they’re cutting-edge food activists and advocates. Where are these stories?
In response, we have decided to use our platform to spotlight and support the many women – of varying colors, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and sexual orientations – that allow us to share their story. Like trendsetters encompassing editorial, events, conferences, and programs such as Parabere Forum, Cherry Bombe, Women in the World, Heritage Radio’s new ‘Speaking Broadly,’ and Time magazine’s latest Firsts Issue, we want to join and support the movement for women’s equality on the world stage. We’re a small site, and it’s a small part, but it’s a step toward broader global understanding.
As chef Kamilla Seidler once said to me about this very issue: “Be open but don’t cry about it; fighting for equality needs to be handled in a respectful way. If we can implement the progress, we can create change.” Personally, as half of the founding team of New Worlder, a woman of minority background and immigrant grandparents, I can be better at contributing to the discussion through action. I’m going to use my platform better. Not only is it important, it’s part of what I set out to do when I launched into creating this site: tell the stories I want to read.
To that end, today we announce the launch of our latest recurring column, Game Changers, which will spotlight the many women working diligently in the food, beverage, and hospitality spaces in the Americas. We’ve already covered some of them — Kamilla Seidler, Malena Martinez, Elia de Reategui, Rosio Sánchez, Lulu Martinez, Silvana Salcido Esparza, Maria Canabal — but there are so many more powerful and influential women we want you to get to know.
While Game Changers is by no means the only place on our site where you’ll find coverage of women, the column helps identify the need for both parity and diversified, amplified voice.
Women like Leonor Espinosa in Bogotá, Alejandra Hurtado and Carolina Bazán in Chile, Maricel Presilla in New Jersey (oft-considered Latin America’s foremost official food historian), Jennifer Rodriguez in Colombia, Marcela Valladolid and Claudette Zepeda in San Diego, Fany Gerson, Grace Ramirez, Lynnette Marrero and Ivy Mix in New York, Gabriela Prudencia in Bolivia, Pía Leon in Peru, Bel Coelho and Roberta Sudbrack in Brazil, Maria de los Angeles in Panama (one of the country’s youngest, most prominent chefs), Illiana de la Vega in Austin, Narda Lepes in Argentina, Gaby Ruiz, Martha Ortiz, Josefina Santacruz, Sabina Bandera, and Celia Florian in Mexico, Cecilia Rios Murrieta in Los Angeles and Oaxaca (who started boutique mezcal brand La Niña del Mezcal), Gabriela Camara in San Francisco, Diana Davila in Chicago, and many, many others.
While Game Changers is by no means the only place on our site where you’ll find coverage of women, the column helps identify the need for both parity and diversified, amplified voice and will consistently offer up these narratives. With just as many women working in food in the Americas as men, we’re going to be talking a lot more about them. And they’re not just chefs, but farmers, cheesemakers, winemakers, sommeliers, mixologists, mycologists, botanists, butchers, and hoteliers. Their common bond? Forget they’re women; they’re all badass.