A female chef in each state
“Bringing equality and balance in the world starts with gender equality,” says chef Dominique Crenn. “In the society that we live in today, we are taught to worship a gender — we should not do that.” And yet, recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that only 19.7% of restaurant kitchens are run by women — a harrowing statistic when 47% of America’s workforce is female, and 51% of students enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America are female.
The unrelenting grueling schedule, absence of benefits, lack of maternity leave and other protections that female chefs face may elucidate why many trained female cooks may choose, or be ultimately forced into, an alternate career, like catering, private chef services, culinary education or leaving the field altogether. Add to that the propensity of food media spotlighting men, while women with equally impressive credentials are left in the hypothetical shadows of their kitchens.
Crenn may be one of America’s most recognized chefs — the French expat is recognized from Netflix’s Chef’s Table show and is chef-owner of her eponymous Atelier Crenn, Petit Crenn and most recently, Bar Crenn, all in San Francisco. A champion for female chefs, the winner of the World’s 50 Best's “Best Female Chef” award hasn’t shied away from tearing down the establishment — that is, the restaurant world and the media circus that surrounds it — to boost female chefs and allies of women thriving in the food world. This month, she’ll host a series of “Women of Food” dinners with Resy, where household names like Nancy Silverton, Barbara Lynch and April Bloomfield will collaborate on special menus, to be paired with cocktails by notable female mixologists.
“It’s about finding a space for everyone to have a voice," Crenn tells USA TODAY. "It’s to show the world that we are here, we’ve been here for a long time and we are here to stay. It’s about years of working and being an advocate for equality and balance in the kitchen and in the world.”
Crenn is “sick and tired of seeing 99% male [chefs]” in the media. “What does that mean for our daughters? What kind of message [is that] for society?” she asks, noting that the distinction between male and female chefs has, in some ways, been created for media consumption. There is, of course, no difference, other than that the world needs to start paying attention more, supporting and pushing for the equal treatment of all chefs. “We’re not here to be competitive with another gender, we’re here because we want to be respected. We are human beings,” she says.
Crenn notes that all-women dinner series and events aren’t about putting women on a pedestal, but rather fighting for visibility and opportunity. At her restaurants, the majority of her cooks are women, but they’re hired for their talent, not their gender. The #MeToo and #NeverAgain movements inspire Crenn as a leader watching kids take the reins. “This is a turning point, no more talk, action is happening — I love it,” she says. “Young [female] cooks may get the message they are weaker than men, bullied or harassed. We have to be the leaders. I want to use my platform to bring change out there, not because it’s cool or trendy — because it’s the right thing to do.”
Female chefs rarely get the recognition they deserve, so add the 50 female chefs in the photos above to your restaurant radar — there's one in your state.
Plus, see more from our 50 states series below.