With the ever-impending doom of graduation getting closer and closer, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my future. In particular, I’ve been thinking about my career. For years, I thought I would pursue a job in academia. But somewhere between my high school job at Dunkin Donuts and my current job in a catering kitchen, I fell in love with cooking. I fell in love with food, the preparing of it, the presentation of it. There are few things I love more than spending a long day at the prep table, chopping fresh vegetables and putting a cheese platter together. The kitchen is the one place I feel at home.
But, as many of you may know, the kitchen doesn’t exactly have a female-friendly reputation. Through a quick Google search, you can find countless articles discussing how women are not welcome in the kitchen. Which is why I was so relieved to read Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. Not only did Hamilton thrive in the kitchen, she also firmly believes that it isn’t about men vs. women. The way she experienced it, the kitchen is one of the few jobs where your hard work and skill matter more than who you know or where you went to school.
The first third of the book, “Blood,” covers Hamilton’s childhood and early experiences in the food industry. “Bones” discusses her attempt to return to graduate school, which is when Hamilton realized she wanted nothing to do with academia and wanted to be a chef. It covers the early years of owning her own restaurant, and briefly discusses her backpacking days in Europe. The final third of the book, “Butter,” discusses her marriage to an Italian doctor, and her relationship with her in-laws in Italy.
But my favorite portion of the book is in “Bones.” Hamilton is invited to speak on a panel at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park. The conference was called “Where Are the Women?” and meant to address the lack of female chefs in the industry. Hamilton was at first amused that this was even an issue that the food industry was still discussing. Her experiences as a chef/owner of a restaurant in New York City had shown her that women Many of her sous chefs had been women, and she received resumes from other female chefs on a daily basis. To Hamilton, “Where Are the Women?” was a tired question that had to be put to bed.
As the panel got underway, Hamilton was taken aback by what she heard from her fellow panelists. Many of them said things like “Women work harder than men” or “Women are better cooks.” Hamilton was so taken aback by these remarks that she began considering her rise to prominence in the kitchen. Even though she studied Marxist feminism in school, she never thought much of the male-female divide in the industry. But then she realized,
I had been working a double shift. I had been working the same shift as my peers, with all of its heat and heft and long hours on your feet. But I had been doing a second job all along, as well—that of constantly, vigilantly figuring out and calibrating my place in that kitchen with those guys to make a space for myself that was bearable and viable. Should I wear pink clogs of black steel-toe work shoes? Lipstick or Chapstick? Work double hard, double fast, double strong, or keep pace with the average Joe? Swear like a line cook or giggle like a girl?
Meanwhile, the parsley needs to be chopped, and the veal chops seared off. There is, still, the work itself to do. –Blood, Bones, and Butter 211-212
As Hamilton goes on to explain, maybe it isn’t so much about men vs. women. At the end of the day, it’s about going in and doing your job, and doing it well. In the kitchen, it doesn’t matter that you went to Columbia or had rich parents, because if you can’t fire off an order in time, you’re screwed, and so is the rest of your crew.
Personally, I’m inclined to agree with Hamilton. In my experience, I earned my respect in the kitchen by working hard, coming in early, staying late, and getting the job done. It doesn’t matter that I’m 5’3” and petite, and happen to have a vagina. To me, the world that Hamilton inhabits, the one I want to inhabit, is the ideal feminist world. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, straight or gay, white or a person of color. All that matters is that you get the job done. What could be more equal than that?