2016 James Beard Awards Proof: Girls Rule!

Unlike in the civilian world, it has long been a cliché in our industry that “a woman’s place is NOT in the kitchen.” Popular wisdom had it as kitchens are populated by rough, knife wielding, competitors that would chew up and spit out the average female line-cook. Well this year’s James Beard Awards recipients are holding up a collection of well-manicured middle fingers to anyone still lost in that 1950s thinking.

The top 3 awards were taken by women chefs and it’s high time our industry take note: Girls Rule!

With the ongoing War for Talent that so many operators are fighting, it seems silly to preclude 53% of the population from your employment pool. So, what do you say, guys? Can you make some room for the “softer sex” on the line? If, the shrinking pool of talented line staff isn’t sufficient incentive, we’ve got five reasons why women in your kitchen will improve your operation.

Five reasons you need women in your restaurant’s kitchen

  1.  In general, women are better at organizing their space, keep themselves and their stations cleaner, and get the tiny details right. Certainly, we can all use a little more of that in our kitchens.
  2. The language in most kitchens would make a sailor blush, but adding in women staff will at least slow the tide of expletives.
  3. In addition to the improvement in language, it will also give pause to the average male kitchen team member to engage in inappropriate behavior. No one would want their sister to know they are a pervert or crass. Having a woman shoulder to shoulder with you naturally creates that comradery. It may not completely eliminate the sophomoric nonsense, but it will at least cause a bit of filtering.
  4. Your women servers will feel a more direct connection to the kitchen if they see a woman toiling in front of a 550 Grill. Can’t we all agree, more cooperation between the kitchen and service staff is a good thing?
  5.  What better way to prove to your community, your staff and yourself that you are a forward-thinking operator that gets the big things and the little things right?

Now, that isn’t to say it will all be peaches and cream. There is no question that a woman will have to prove herself worthy of the men’s respect. Unfairly, it might even take more than a man would have to deliver to get that respect. The real stories of women who have chosen this path are, at once, laugh out loud funny and wholly disheartening.

Here’s the thing: You have to play Branch Rickey to your first woman kitchen member’s Jackie Robinson. Be supportive, but don’t coddle them. Kitchens are hard places to work. Hold your team accountable for being professional and respectful, but don’t give anyone special treatment.

Choosing the first women chef or line-cook will require you find an exceptional person for the job. You may even want to alert your team that you are considering this change. It’s good proof that you are an inclusive employer and you are likely to get referral for that first candidate that a perfect match. Remember, it’s never easy being first, but the rewards are obvious. So, go ahead join the James Beard Foundation and recognize women in your own kitchen.

Are you a woman chef? We want to hear your stories!