Why most chefs are men while cooking at home is still seen as women’s work

Oct 14, 2021

Two different readers of this newsletter brought up the same question this week: how can cooking still be seen as women’s work while most professional chefs are men?

This reminded me of a conversation I had some time ago with my friend Margaretha.

We were basically ranting about a certain type of (usually male) dinner party cook who can’t just put the food on the table. No, he has to go ON and ON about how he made it as if nobody in the HISTORY OF THE WORLD had ever cooked a chicken before.

Isn’t that annoying, we said.

And can’t you just tell that on a normal rainy Tuesday it’s a completely different story.

Then I bet it will be his wife standing by the stove stirring the lentil soup…

But afterwards I thought that maybe we had been wrong going on like this.

I remembered reading somewhere about how the expectation that entertaining and cooking for other people should somehow be EFFORTLESS and STRESS FREE is only really put on women.

It’s only women we expect to be able to “throw something together”. You should be able to entertain but it shouldn’t look like you made an effort and the cookbook industry is ready to help you with book after book with “easy dishes you can make ahead”.  

Cooking for men on the other hand, isn’t presented like that at all.

Then it’s all about staying up all night barbecuing a WHOLE PIG in a GROUND PIT you dug yourself in the back garden.

A woman who spends the whole party stirring pots on the stove will be seen as a bit pathetic (and frankly just not organised enough).

BUT a man who spends the whole party standing by the barbecue is officially THE KING . The very centre of attention and everybody is offering him PRAISE and BEERS while listening to his monologues about meat rub.

IF someone comes in to the women stirring pots in the kitchen it’s normally only with a worried look of “are you alright, can I help you with something?”

This actually ties into the question about how most professional chefs are men while cooking (at home) is still seen as women’s work. It has to do with a skill being professionalized and masculinised at the same time.

Male chefs are presented as ARTISTS and INNOVATORS with technical gifts and extraordinary creative skills. Women cooking at home are presented as doing something out of instinct and love: I’m just nurturing my family, it’s no big deal!

This is actually a more general phenomenon in the economy (I talk about it in my book Mother of Invention in chapter 4). When women do something well we are much more inclined to see it as “natural”. Something she just happens to be good at. When a man does something well we see it as a “skill”.

And it matters financially.

If something simply comes natural to you, why should you be paid a lot for it?

On the other hand, if something is a “skill”, a complicated thing you have had to train yourself to do, then of course you should be paid a lot/appreciated/handed a lot of beers.

My point is that those (often male) dinner party cooks that me and my friend were ranting about are actually VERY good at presenting what they do as the result of some really ADVANCED , HARD ACQUIRED skill that took them YEARS to perfect.


Next time I’m cooking for guests and somebody pops into the kitchen with a pitying (but ultimately well-meaning) “Are you alright, can I help you with something?” I will simply shout:

-       Get the F out! Can’t you see I’m creating an ARTISTIC MASTERPIECE!! Go out and get me a HUGE glass of Chardonnay and two bowls of olives. Then please sit quietly in the corner and WORSHIP at the feet of my culinary SKILLS. Can’t you see that HISTORY is being done with this onion today!

Happy Friday!


Ps. On Tuesday my book Mother of Invention is being published in the US and Canada! VERY exciting! You can pre-order it here.

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