By Jane Bauer
A few years ago I sat in a tapas bar in Madrid with a glass of wine ready to devour a copy of a well-respected food magazine that I had picked up at the airport. The cover promised stories about Mexican chefs. Sadly, as I read through, almost all the chefs mentioned were men and they all seemed to croon the same old story I had heard from almost every Mexican chef I know about how they started in their mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen. The tone of these tales always suggests some sort of bravery on their part for having taken a chance in the kitchen.
This issue of The Eye brings up a lot of topics that I have long debated. I once got into a discussion with a man who couldn’t understand why I don’t refer to myself as a chef.
“You run a kitchen, don’t you?” he pushed, knowing full well that I do. I explained that none of the women I work with refer to themselves as chefs and therefore it would seem the height of arrogance to go around calling myself a chef. “I just like feeding people. I don’t really need or want the title,” I said and I could tell he couldn’t understand this.
Why do I cook? Cooking for me started as an act of love- first in my childhood with family, then in college with friends, then in my first home for my husband, then for my daughter… I can scarcely think of a time in my life when I haven’t run a kitchen.
I am always a little taken aback when I am invited to attend a food event such as a culinary festival as a presenter or judge, to find other people who run kitchens dressed up in their chef whites- I don’t even own a pair of chef whites! I do have many elegant dresses that look great with an apron though!
My culinary creativity hasn’t been spontaneous, it has been cultivated over time from my travels, sharing kitchens with others, being introduced to new ingredients and necessity- cooking qu’est-ce qui, a French term I learned today for “what there is.”
Chefs also have a terrible reputation for getting upset- having fiery tempers and throwing things. I have rarely raised my voice in the kitchen and have never thrown anything. The kitchen is the heart of a home and even in a restaurant I think the vibe should reflect that- good food is made with care not ambition.
“What people expect from your kitchen isn’t what people expect from mine,” a fellow chef/restaurateur once told me with a tone that suggested his was superior. So while not calling myself a chef or strutting around in chef whites may lead to me being taken a little less seriously, I’m ok with that. I am far more honored to be a part of a legacy of women who cook to connect, to grow and to nourish.
See you next month,