Counter Intelligence

Girls v. Boys

Posted in General Interest by melissamccart on June 29, 2007

male__female.gifA couple of weeks ago when Sietsema reviewed Vermilion, he wrote that Anthony Chittum cooks like a girl:

The discussion made me think about cooking and gender. Looking back over the thousands of restaurant meals I’ve put away over two decades of serious eating, was there any sign that the dishes were created by a man or a woman? What leapt to my mind, especially with regard to young cooks, is a guy’s need to show off, to strut, to pile on when he should hold his punches. Men tend to play with their food, often erecting fortresses and skyscrapers from their ingredients. Women, on the other hand, tend to edit themselves better. Neatness and focus are their general hallmarks.

Which brings me to my point: Anthony Chittum cooks like a girl.

Since then, I’ve been trying to decide if this is absurd or has a ring of truth.  Then last week, Ed Levine at Serious Eats penned “Mama” versus “Show Off Cooks” Test in response to the San Francisco Chronicle’s piece, What is it about the cooking of WOMEN CHEFS that makes it more memorable, more comforting, than that of men?

Joyce Goldstein, the retired ground-breaking chef-restaurateur behind Square One in SF, framed the argument this way:

Listen, there are two kinds of cooks, there’s mama cooks and show-off cooks. Now, not all mama cooks are women but all the show-off cooks are men. Boys with chemistry sets. Boy food is all about: ‘Look at me!’

Mama food is there to satisfy you, to feed you, to take care of you. You remember mama food and it makes you happy. That other stuff, it amazes you, but it doesn’t make you happy.

I’d guess these assertions about cooking like a girl or a mama started with the London Times online, which established criteria in early May with a taste test:

While the dishes were being prepared, the panel, after much debate, reached a consensus on what to expect: simplicity and relaxed style, with sensual but gentle flavours from the female corner, and from the male corner, something with gusto, artistry and much showing off of peacock feathers . . . “Guys just can’t help being competitive,” reckons Sullivan. “Even when we are cooking for friends at home, we like to say we have just slammed something in the oven, but the truth is we’ve probably been poring over books and practising for days, because we have to produce food that makes a statement.”

Is it trends in food– molecular gastronomy versus retro comfort food– that encourage chefs, critics, and diners to neuter (male) chefs who embrace the back to basics approach? Or is it cultural–what Italian chefs aren’t “mama cooks,” for example?  I wonder.  Is it a compliment to say someone cooks like a girl or a mama?

In the meantime, have at it. Who cooks like a girl and who doesn’t? Does gender really play a role?

Roberto Donna-Frank Ruta-R.J. Cooper-Antonio Burrell-Ann Cashion-Alison Swope-Ris Lacoste-Todd Gray-Jonathan Krinn-John Wabeck-Carol Greenwood-Jeff Tunks-Koji Terano-Michel Richard-Robert Wiedmaier-Frank Morales-Eric Ziebold-Cathal Armstrong-Brian McBride-Fabio Trabocchi-Barton Seaver-Michael Hartzer. . . . .


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4 Responses

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  1. Nycci said, on June 29, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Do you really wan to ask that question? Unfortunately, people may see it as name calling! I love this post — and would love to see a real conversation about the differences between male and female cooking.

  2. melissamccart said, on June 29, 2007 at 4:45 pm

    Oh, I hope it’s not name calling! And I agree with you, Nycci. It seems like every major newspaper has had an article about some kind of gender in the kitchen topic. I’d love to hear local chefs, etc. weigh in on it.

  3. […] Girls v. Boys [Counter Intelligence] […]

  4. chef mama said, on October 21, 2010 at 2:40 am

    i like this
    im a male chef at a restaurant named mama terano
    and i adhere to this
    i cook like a mama
    ull remember it


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