It’s no secret that the restaurant business, like many other industries, has been dominated by men despite capable and qualified women working equally hard, if not harder, to gain the same opportunities. A new installment of Logo Documentary Films titled Hungry looks to put a face on that issue, in fact a few faces.
The film follows three chefs in various stages of their careers: Chef Pink Delongpre of up and coming farm-to-table spot Bacon & Brine in Solvang, CA, Chef Sarah Kirnon of Oakland’s Miss Ollie’s as she pioneers a transition to a co-op model in the face of the city’s rapid gentrification, and Chef Dakota Weiss of Los Angeles’ Estrella and the rapidly expanding Sweetfin chain of fast casual poké restaurants.
I asked Chef Weiss to about her involvement in the project and what it means for women to be taking charge in the food industry.
FWx: What compelled you to get involved in this project and to tell your story?
Chef Dakota Weiss: I was excited to be involved with this movie for so many reasons both professionally and personally. But the number one reason was to keep getting the word out about gender equality. It has in many ways gotten better in the 18 years I have been cooking but that does not mean that we are where we need to be and should stop being vocal about equality. Being given the chance to reach out nationally on television is such a perfect platform in which to spread the word and have our voices be heard.
What was it like being followed around by cameras for six months? Did it change how you operated?
In all honesty it was rather normal. Rob the DP is such a pro at what he does; he truly was like a fly on the wall. It was very unobtrusive. The point of this documentary is to show what it really is like on a day to day basis. I didn't want to stage anything or make it untrue to what we do every day.
What do you value about running your own kitchen?
I value my staff and being able to personally hand pick them all. Kitchens are so chaotic and busy that I feel you really need to hire a staff that can roll with the punches. Get down to business when needed but also get along with each other and support each other. Back one another up when needed.
What has been the biggest shift you’ve seen in the past couple of decades as women take on more leadership roles in restaurants?
First thing that comes to mind is nurturing. I feel like with the rise of women chefs I have seen the kitchens become more like a family. It's not about just you - when you have a woman running the kitchen it's about the team. It's always been about the head chef, and most male chefs are happy to make it all about themselves. But when I see females run kitchens it's more about the team that made that kitchen great. There is less focus on the chef to stand alone.
Was there anything you learned about yourself from watching the documentary?
Watching the documentary really helped me see into other female chefs lives, and it was nice to know that my feelings, my struggles and my praises are not alone. It was also great to see that I can actually step away (for a little bit) and that my staff are making the right choices. Makes me incredibly proud.
Hungry spotlights those unique aspects and harsh realities that go along with being female chefs. Realities which include troubling statistics, like the fact that less than only about five percent of small business loan recipients are women.
Food media plays a role, too. “We found that men and women chefs were talked about very differently. A lot of times men were described as being these iconoclasts who broke all the rules, and these rebels. It was very hyperbolic language. And women seemed to get more attention when they stuck to the rules, like ’This is classic Italian cuisine’ and ‘This is just like what my nonna used to make,’ says Dr. Deborah Harris co-author of Taking the Heat: Women Chefs and Gender Inequality. ”That’s really upholding this idea that what men do is new, exciting and worthy of attention versus women, well it’s kind of like the same old same old of home cooking.”
When considering the immense costs and clout needed to open any restaurant, let alone a prominent eatery in a restaurant-crowded city like Los Angeles or New York, it’s no wonder that women only account for about 1 in 5 chefs and head cooks in professional kitchens.
The documentary also includes interviews with a number of other female chefs and food industry professionals of both sexes, including Chef Marcus Samuelsson, who provide context on the state of women and other underrepresented groups in the field. And though women continue to be underrepresented in kitchens, gender equity is normalizing at a faster rate in food than in many other spaces, paving the way for a day when we won’t think of “female chefs” in the kitchen, instead they'll be recognized simply as “chefs who happen to be female.”
Hungry premieres on Logo tonight, Thursday, November 17th, at 9pm ET/PT.