Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This One's For the Ladies...

Until the 1970's, cooking in the home was, as it had been for millennia, "women's work." Paradoxically, the so-called "great" chefs were all men. The home kitchen was a woman's natural environment, but a professional kitchen was considered a more macho milieu. Not until Julia Child, the first celebrity female chef, did women come out of the kitchen and, um, get into the kitchen.  The TV kitchen, that is, teaching American cooking enthusiasts how to create meals they never had before.

40 years later, I find myself facing the same question our foremothers did: Why are all the "great" bartenders men? You know who they are: Gary Regan, Dale DeGroff, Tony Abou-Ganim, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Tony Conigliaro - I could go on and on.  They work in the swankiest bars, publish authoritative books, appear as guests on TV shows, lead seminars and enjoy a practically classical old-boy network.  Now, nobody's saying that there are no women tending bar, or succeeding doing it; no female gets more press than Julie Reiner.  (Possibly Ada Coleman, but no living female bartender is more famous than Julie Reiner.)  In the 21st century, there is room for all, and so why are the females so scarce?

It sounds like a feminist question, and the feminists are quick to commit the straw man fallacy, telling the tale of female who is unsuited to bartending it's because hospitality hours are so long, or so late and child care can be difficult to coordinate.  It's because this woman, who naturally wants to have a baby, is smarter to have a job with (gasp!) health insurance benefits. It's because the work is hard, and requires her to lift heavy things. The fact of the matter is that we do not all want children, all children have fathers to share the work of rearing them and parents have been wrestling this problem long enough that I think it's about as solved as it can reasonably be expected to be. I reject the notion that our biology is holding us back.

I hate to disappoint, but unlike the feminists, I do not pretend to know the answer to this question. There are some clues, however. The kitchen follows the bar, and if we look to the evolution of the female chef, we cannot underestimate the importance of the moving picture.  TV changed a lot of things in the 70's, and making female chefs famous was one thing. For one reason or another, people like to watch women. I could enumerate all the reasons, but I think you could, too. Now everyone with even a passing interest in cooking can name famous chefs like Cat Cora, Paula Deen, Giada Di Laurentiis, Ann Burrell, Ina Garten, Nigella Lawson - this list goes on and on. I predict we will one day be able to rattle off such a list of female mixologists.

Part of this evolution will come from an acceptance that spirit is not just a vehicle of inebriation. Spirit has flavors, textures, colors (and yes, effects) that delight the senses. Spirit complements food, awakening hunger and playing nicely upon the palate. Another component will be the aforementioned visual one, and more importantly, an outlet for these images (perhaps a Drinks Network?).  It wouldn't hurt to have more of us in the industry who are pulling things along, and to remember that there really is room for us all.

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