Women Rule the Kitchen, But Not the Best Ones4

WNYC’s Amy Eddings was kind enough to chat with me about my Bloomberg News & Bloomberg Pursuits stories about the lack of female top chefs throughout the U.S. restaurant industry.

Listen through for a proper shout out to Gordon Ramsay. Say what you will about the foul-mouthed Scot, but he’s done a better job at promoting women to head chef jobs than virtually any male chef in America.

Nineteen percent of New Yorkers surveyed by Gallup said they struggled to afford food at least once over the past year, compared with a nationwide high of 23% in West Virginia and 25.1% in Mississippi.
New York is on the higher end of the scale, with residents of Alaska and New Hampshire being the least likely to have a hard time with food costs. “Americans’ growing struggles to afford food may be linked to a rise in food prices across the country, particularly meat prices, while national incomes have largely flat-lined since the recession," Gallup wrote. Sad news.

Nineteen percent of New Yorkers surveyed by Gallup said they struggled to afford food at least once over the past year, compared with a nationwide high of 23% in West Virginia and 25.1% in Mississippi.

New York is on the higher end of the scale, with residents of Alaska and New Hampshire being the least likely to have a hard time with food costs. “Americans’ growing struggles to afford food may be linked to a rise in food prices across the country, particularly meat prices, while national incomes have largely flat-lined since the recession," Gallup wrote. Sad news.

OpenTable Launches Alerts for Impossible Reservations4

These bespoke text-message notifications will exponentially reduce the amount of time you spend hitting refresh on OpenTable. That’s the good news. The bad news is that these alerts might make impossible tables even more impossible by increasing the pool of diners seeking such impossibility. That’s the tradeoff. Or something like that. I’d say pick your poison, but your poison has really been picked for you.

I’ll be joining Eater as a restaurant critic and a data guy! Am humbled to be working with other new hires like steakmaster Nick Solares, jack-of-all trades Robert Sietsema, and national restaurant editor Bill Addison. Am also stoked to say I’ll continue filling The Price Hike & The Bad Deal with great content, both original and from around the web. I’m very grateful to all of who’ve read The Hike & The Deal over the past three years! You’re the BEST!

I’ll be joining Eater as a restaurant critic and a data guy! Am humbled to be working with other new hires like steakmaster Nick Solares, jack-of-all trades Robert Sietsema, and national restaurant editor Bill Addison. Am also stoked to say I’ll continue filling The Price Hike & The Bad Deal with great content, both original and from around the web. I’m very grateful to all of who’ve read The Hike & The Deal over the past three years! You’re the BEST!

Anna Savittieri has launched a KICKSTARTER to fund her documentary about tipping in the hospitality industry. Tipping, in its unique American form, involves guests deciding how much money a server will earn on a given night by “rewarding” them with a gratuity. 

Savittieri, a third-year student at McGill, will travel to Washington DC, Chicago, New York and Boston to interview members of the service industry as part of her film. To achieve this, Anna’s looking to raise $1,550. Let’s hope she gets many times more than that. And let’s hope she can swing by San Francisco as well, where the servers make a full $10.55 before tips, instead of the federal tipped minimum, of $2.13. 

We at The Bad Deal & The Price Hike have been long been in favor of abolishing tipping in favor of service-included pricing along the lines of Sushi Yasuda, which banned tipping last year. That move, of course, followed Thomas Keller’s decision to go service-included at Per Se in 2005. 

We hope and believe that more restaurants will follow. Such European-style policies make it easier for restaurants to put waiters on salary and guarantee them steady incomes. And such policies also allow for restaurants to better address the pay disparity between front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house staffers; cooks can earn much less than waiters at high-end restaurants.

And that rebalancing of incomes is why some expensive restaurants legitimately fear that going service-included will cause wait staffs to defect, as it would almost certainly involve pay cuts for servers. We hope Savittieri address that in her film. 

We could go on. But for now, watch the excellent “teaser trailer” for Savittieri’s documentary. We wish her luck. (Kickstarter). 

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.

That curious fact is from PART II of my Bloomberg News inquiry into the lack of female head chefs at prominent American restaurant groups like Momofuku, Jean Georges Management, Daniel Boulud’s Dinex and elsewhere. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18.7 percent of head cooks are women, while 24.2 percent are chief executives (of course, if you narrow things down to female Fortune 500 CEOs, you’re down to about 4%). 

That curious fact is from PART II of my Bloomberg News inquiry into the lack of female head chefs at prominent American restaurant groups like Momofuku, Jean Georges Management, Daniel Boulud’s Dinex and elsewhere. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 18.7 percent of head cooks are women, while 24.2 percent are chief executives (of course, if you narrow things down to female Fortune 500 CEOs, you’re down to about 4%). 

Contemplating The Lack of Female Head Chefs

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. 

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“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.