Last fall, when Time magazine published an article about the “Gods of Food” that omitted female chefs, a media backlash ensued.
“Why do female chefs rarely win the adulation and recognition of male chefs?” asked the New York Times in a discussion here. “This is pathetic,” tweeted food writer Ruth Reichl, according to this Daily News article. “Time should be ashamed.” And Eater, the popular food blog, pressed Time’s then-editor Howard Chua-Eoan about why women weren’t included. (“We wanted to go with reputation and influence” rather than quotas, Chua-Eoan explained, in remarks that some construed as sexist.)
At The Story Exchange, one of our missions is to provide media exposure to female entrepreneurs who often go overlooked — despite being innovative, talented, hard-working job creators. So with the controversy over female chefs still unfolding, we decided to take action: Let’s take a look at successful women in the restaurant industry — and give them the media attention they deserve. (See our latest installment in today’s New York Times.)
We headed to Cambridge, Mass., the longtime home of Julia Child, one of the food industry’s most celebrated icons. Child, no surprise to us, effectively ushered in a wave of female chefs, across the nation but in Boston in particular. As we often say, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Back in the ’70s and ’80s, up-and-coming female chefs like Barbara Lynch, who grew up in a housing project in South Boston, saw Child breaking barriers, and thought – “I can do that, too.” (Incidentally, Lynch, who won this year’s James Beard award and owns a Boston hospitality group with 260 employees and annual revenue of $20 million, was left off Time’s list….apparently not influential enough.) Lynch, following in Child’s footsteps, is now a mentor to the next generation of chefs, including Top Chef winner Kristen Kish.
We zeroed in on two Cambridge chefs in particular: Jody Adams and Ana Sortun. Adams, 57, got her start in Boston thanks to help from a number of women, including Child and Lydia Shire, who opened Seasons in the Bostonian Hotel. Adams, who owns Rialto and Trade, recounted situations where she faced sexual harassment in kitchens. Today, she’s fostering female talent in her restaurants and the greater Boston area. “It’s up to us to support other women,” Adams says. One of her mentees is Sortun, 46, who’s opened Oleana, Sofra and Sarma in the Cambridge area. For her part, Sortun doesn’t talk about sexism in the industry. “I know that it exists, and I know that it’s out there — but it doesn’t have anything to do with my work,” Sortun says. “The generation after me will be even more different.”
We hope young women who are rising up the ranks in top kitchens won’t have to struggle to get media attention. But for now, we’re doing our part to shine a spotlight on prominent female restaurateurs whose reputations and influence speak for themselves.