Why Aren't There More Female Head Chefs Taking Maternity Leave -- And Returning?
There’s a curious section about family leave in my Bloomberg News inquiry into the lack of female head chefs.
Most of the restaurant groups I spoke with couldn’t cite an instance where female sous chefs or higher went on maternity leave, while many of the same restaurant groups could recall cases of male sous chefs or higher taking paternity leave.
As Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen told Charlotte Druckman, “There are very few working chefs with children who are women.”
Of course there are exceptions — a female sous chef at The Spotted Pig returned to her role in the kitchen after childbirth, twice. And Barbara Lynch, who runs seven venues in Boston, took about eight weeks of leave after her water broke at one of her spaces, The Butcher Shop.
Now here’s another interesting story, this one from Luke Dirks, managing partner at Gabe Stulman’s growing empire of Little Wisco restaurants. What’s interesting is that the female sous left for maternity, but didn’t return. And the group is now figuring things out with another employee. See below for Dirks’ candid thoughts, which he sent via email:
Luke Dirks: Two years back, one of our female Sous Chefs started a family and she chose not to return to work post-pregnancy, despite our best efforts to try to encourage her to return. She made the decision to be at home with her new child and family. We would have loved to have her back on the team, but we respect her choice…Currently, one of our female Sous Chefs is about to go on FMLA leave to give birth to her first child and she has yet to specify with us what role she wants (if any) to return to in the spring. We are working closely with her to plan her return in a few months and we would welcome her back…We are certainly curious (as you are) how the leaders in this industry approach maternity/paternity leave, and as we grow and encounter these conversations with greater frequency, we want to be amongst the leaders in our practices.
My Bloomberg News editors were generous enough to grant me 2,700 words for my second of two columns on the lack of female head chefs in the U.S. and Canada. And yet I could’ve easily penned 3,500 words, though it’s probably good that I didn’t, because let’s be reasonable, right? Still, I wish there’d been room to talk about Suzanne Cupps, an up-and-coming sous-chef at Gramercy Tavern. I wish I could’ve squeezed in a few quotes from Charlotte Druckman, the author of Skirt Steak. And I wish you could hear my entire conversation with Karen Grieco, the managing partner at Tom Colicchio’s Craft Group of restaurants; her eloquence and candor really helped me see some of these issues in a very different light. She rocks.
Hopefully I’ll be writing more about my conversations with Grieco and others in the coming months.
In the meantime, here are some interesting snippets of the emails and phone conversations I didn’t get to use in my article. Don’t overlook the final paragraph by Jefferson Macklin, the chief operating officer and president of the Barbara Lynch Gruppo. He talks about the importance of the head chef job, and if you understand his thoughts on that, you’ll understand why I’ve been spending so much time writing about the lack of women in that position.* Enjoy:
Andrew Carmellini (Locanda Verde, Lafayette): I have had amazing women on my teams since the Cafe Boulud days. At one point The Dutch was an all female line. We have female sous chefs at all of the restaurants. For me, gender doesn’t matter. Skill and maturity matter. I would hire a female CDC or a male Pastry Chef at any time. (We do currently have a male pastry chef, in Miami).
Jefferson Macklin (Barbara Lynch COO): We tend to like to hire from within. And we tend to try to think about who’s next up, for chef de cuisine roles or sous chef roles. And we’ve had periods where it’s been much more female than male. And we’re in a period now where the people who are ready to step up in the chef de cuisine role for the next round when we do some transitioning are most likely male. We don’t have any women right now who are ready to step up. But I would say that two iterations from now we have another kind of “class” that have joined us there I could see being some potentials.
“When you go back to that original question about what fuels the sociological connections between women and pastry, I think the answer lies here — somewhere amid baking’s being perceived as amateurish and pastry’s being confused with it. I suspect, in our nation, a conflation of these two microcrafts may have triggered the downgrading of the latter specialty to home-style status”—That’s Charlotte Druckman with one of my favorite quotes in recent years. I’m tempted to elaborate on this one — as the quote conjures up images of skilled sugar technicians plying their trade at restaurants, dreams of “mom” removing a tray of cookies from the oven, and visions of a boulangere working her starter dough at some Michelin-starred abode. It’s the type of quote I could tweet but, alas, that’s what Tumblr is for. The source, of course, is Druckman’s “Skirt Steak.”
“This isn’t the traditional business model where the top position is the CEO, and if you don’t have the CEO [job], you hit a glass ceiling. But here, the glass ceiling would be owner of the restaurant, which I don’t want, so it’s like you almost have to create your own reality; you have to create your own ceiling in your own world. And yeah, as you move up, the pyramid gets smaller in any business, in any career.”—Pastry Chef Emily Luchetti opines on question of a glass ceiling in restaurants. The quote comes from Charlotte Druckman’s “Skirt Steak,” a fine opus about women in the hospitality industry.
“Even my investors were like, `Well, you know, if we didn’t know you, we probably wouldn’t have invested in a woman.’ And some of those investors are my family.”—Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen continues to speak the truth in Charlotte Druckman’s “Skirt Steak,” which documents the ups and downs of women in the hospitality industry. Raising capital for a new restaurant can be tough for women, especially since investors often come from the male-dominant financial industry.
“There are very few working chefs with children who are women.”—Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen drops some TRUTH in Charlotte Druckman’s excellent “Skirt Steak.” I’ve been talking to a bunch of chefs about this same topic, and we’ll talk more about that soon. Briefly: Cohen appears to be quite right.
Here’s PART ONE of my Bloomberg Pursuits inquiry into the unusually small number of female head chefs in America. The focus of this particularly piece is on the male-dominant world of fine-dining and tasting menu-only restaurants. The numbers aren’t pretty, and I’ll dive deeper into the data in PART TWO, which I’m hoping to put out later this week.
“You go into Carbone, and the whole thing is so fake…I went for dinner and I was embarrassed to be there”—
Says Sean MacPheron in an interview with The New York Times. He’s the guy behind Waverly Inn, which sells $55 truffled mac & cheese to celebrities. He’s also the guy who’s allowing Tao, a Buddha-themed restaurant that sells $88 Wagyu ribeye to tourists, to open underneath his Maritime Hotel.
So to be fair, the dude clearly knows a thing or two about fake.
When Businessweek asked me to review French fries, I said yeah, sure, no problem, because of all the things that fast food joints get right, it’s usually fries. Right? Wrong. I struggled with my gag reflex to consume the worst frites, and could feel my kidneys tighten as the sodium coursed through my body.
I’ve rarely felt as terrible after eating something as I did after eating these fries, which I did over the course of 24 hours, though I was just sampling a few fries each, not consuming the entire bag.
It’s probably for the best that certain descriptions didn’t make it into the final edit. Of one particularly bad fry, I wrote: "Tastes like someone from the local prison commissary deep fried powdered mashed potato mix and served the result as a form of culinary revenge on the world that had wronged him"
“I think we’ve had a little bit difficulty connecting to the Bolivians, so one of our challenges is to get local diners to frequent us as happily and as often as people who come from Australia or Europe or the United States.”—Claus Meyer, a co-owner at Noma, talks with Eater’s Amy McKeever about the challenges of Gustu, his restaurant in Bolivia where an extended wine-paired tasting menu costs about $130. That’s much less than a $900 dinner at Noma, but a few dollars more than what Bolivians are used to spending (or can afford to spend) on food.
John Mariani is always one of the earlier critics to file his best new restaurants list; I typically publish my top picks in mid-December for Bloomberg. That said, take a look at Mariani’s writeup, which includes Paul Liebrandt’s The Elm, Ludo Lefebvre’s Trois Mec, Eamon Rockey’s Betony and, somewhat curiously, Shaun Hergatt’s Juni.
“There’s almost never a good reason to eat on a plane. You’ll never feel better after airplane food than before it. I don’t understand people who will accept every single meal on a long flight.”—Anthony Bourdain, in a fine piece on how to travel for Esquire.
Her name was Marcella Hazan. She died this morning with her husband Victor at her side. Click through for a fine 2008 New York Times profile of the couple. This was the lady who showed Americans and Brits that Italian cooking wasn’t just red sauce cooking. May she rest in peace.
“Mr. Bouley is setting up a computer system so that diners can get digital images of what they’ve eaten before they even get the check.”—From an amusing article about the downsides of food photography (which we’re in favor of), as published in a January 2013 issue of the New York Times. This Bouley system seems particularly ridiculous.
He marched in the Russian Revolution. He fled the pogroms and moved to the Lower East Side. He eats at fancy joints like Cafe Boulud and David Burke Townhouse. He recently had a fling with a 90-year-old woman. Didn’t work out. His name is Harry Rosen. May he live another 100 years.
“We’ve raised most of the money that we need to renovate a new place and for permits and all those big-ticket items [for which] I’m willing to give up equity for my business. But as a business person and someone that’s put all of my money and two years of my life into City Grit, I wasn’t willing to give up more equity for money that’s going to sit in someone’s bank account for 15 years.”—
Sarah Simmons, who’s $100,000 Kickstarter went unfunded, talks with Eater about the difficulties of keeping financial ownership over City Grit, the restaurant and culinary salon she founded.
City Grit hosts a rotating series of pop-up dinners throughout the year, often giving young chefs a chance to try out their ideas in New York before committing to a brick-and-mortar institution. For the culinary community, it is among our most important spaces.
Larry Forgione was one of the original gangstas of New American Cuisine, with its emphasis on seasonal, green market-style preparations. Now we have his son, Mark, giving New York yet another expensive steakhouse serving giant hunks of meat. Will it be good? Probably. Does it seem right? Not quite.
“The sensation of pure sugar can be overwhelming. It coats
the mouth and clogs the back of the throat. Halfway through the
roll, the body cries out for water or, even better, Diet Coke,
which has a way of cutting through the varnish laid by the fats
and sugars. Deep inside the roll, the bun’s core is hot and yet
just barely cooked. Once gone, the bottom of the clamshell box
is left smeared like a crime scene with a mash of syrup and
cream cheese. Each one is 3 inches high and 4 inches in diameter
and costs $3.69.”—What a “Cinnabon” tastes like, according to my colleague Duane Stanford, who pens a brilliant story for Bloomberg Businessweek about Kat Cole, an ex-Hooters waitress who now runs the chain of junk food joints.
It’s about gosh darn time. New York State attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman has reached settlements with companies that create fake online reviews for restaurants and other businesses on Yelp, CitySearch, Google and elsewhere, NYT reports. The companies will stop their insanity and fork over $350,000 in penalties.
“Don’t try to come on the days the restaurant in closed.”—A “critic’s tip” from the “Foodie Top 100 Restaurants Worldwide” guidebook (page 135). “Our goal is to be the next generation Michelin,” CEO Samir Arora told TechCrunch. Good luck with that.
“According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly four million people would be removed from the food stamp program under the House bill. A Census Bureau report released on Tuesday found that the food stamp program had kept about four million people above the poverty level and had prevented millions more from sinking further into poverty.”—The House bill passed, cutting $40 billion from the food stamp program. President Obama has threatened to veto the measure. (Source: NYT).
“Listen: No one can sell sparkling Italian wines. Franciacorta? Doesn’t sell. And it’s not because the wines are bad. It’s because people don’t showcase it, or present it in the right way. Everything can be great if you put it in the right perspective and put it in the right position to sell it.”—Chris Cannon drops some wine knowledge on us. He’s the guy who used to run Alto & Convivio. Now he’s involved with All’Onda, Chris Jaeckle’s soon-to-open Japanese-inflected Italian joint. Nice interview by Eater.
“Zimmern suggests that a restaurateur might turn to Kickstarter because it offers the cash infusion of private investment without the strings. Private investors — who want things like a say in the direction of a restaurant they gave money to — can be “bad for making art.” It just remains to be seen whether customers will keep on giving, even if they are excited about having a new restaurant in their neighborhood and their name on the wall.”—
From Eater’s fine piece contemplating how restaurateurs are increasingly turning to Kickstarter funding. The flip side of course is that private restaurant investors are sometimes accomplished hospitality professionals who know how to make businesses work. And such investors have a high incentive to make things work (i.e. they want their money back and a return on their investment in three to five years).
Those who fund Kickstarters don’t really get their money back in traditional ways, but rather in the form of free meals, VIP status, etc. So Kickstarter is definitely a different ballgame in terms of to whom and how the recipients of the funding are accountable.
“If a Danny Meyer, Steven Hanson, David Chang, etc decide on a service charge then I think most small restaurants will follow easily and willingly. I do not believe the quality of service will change as we pool tips at both of my places anyway. It would be great to help the disparity of wages between back-of-the-house and front-of-the-house staff though.”—Hanjan and Danji’s Hooni Kim enters the debate over tipping and service charges during an interview with our sister site The Price Hike.
Five years ago, Ahmed Jama returned to Somalia. Since leaving his homeland in 1980, he’d become a chef with a successful restaurant in England. He owned The Village, where he served Somali dishes to expatriates and smart English diners. He planned to open more restaurants, only in Mogadishu. He…