Anita Lo, Angela Hartnett, Anne-Sophie Pic, and more speak out on their experiences in the restaurant industry.

By Bridget Hallinan
May 17, 2019
Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

The restaurant industry has long been plagued with boy's club culture—white men dominated the awards cycles and magazine covers for decades, and the World's 50 Best Restaurant awards still has a separate category for "Best Female Chef." (There is no corresponding award for "Best Male Chef.") And while women have been succeeding in professional kitchens for a long, long time, as Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn pointed out, "nobody has been talking about them"—which is precisely why Maya Gallus made The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution. As the film's director, writer, and producer, Gallus told Food & Wine over e-mail that she wanted to explore what it's like to be a woman working in the culinary industry, "from grassroots to Michelin star level." It took her three years to make, and the timing ended up coinciding with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, which she said, "really opened up receptivity to a larger conversation about women navigating male-dominated spaces."

"My hope is that viewers will have a deeper understanding of what is really going on in the back of the house, and how outdated power structures and hierarchies of abuse don't benefit anyone, including those at the top," Gallus wrote. "Also, I wanted to showcase the beauty of their work itself, the level of artistry and creativity and passion that so many female chefs bring to their work and yet are not widely celebrated for." 

The Heat, which launched on Netflix earlier this month, features eight women in the restaurant industry. We hear from Anne-Sophie Pic, Angela Hartnett, and Anita Lo, who are industry veterans; there's also representation from a younger generation of chefs, including Amanda Cohen (Dirt Candy), Victoria Blamey (formerly of Chumley's), Toronto-based chef Suzanne Barr, Charlotte Langley (freelance chef), and Ivy Knight, a line cook turned writer and author. Gallus wanted to focus on women who spoke directly to their experience in the industry and actively advocated for women as well. Some, she identifies as glass ceiling breakers—Pic is famously the only three-starred woman chef in France's Michelin Guide, and Hartnett, another Michelin-starred chef, trained and worked with Gordon Ramsay before starting an empire of her own. But Gallus also wanted to talk to women who didn't have the means to start their own restaurant.

Anne-Sophie Pic at Maison Pic.
Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

"I wanted to feature women who didn't have the capital for a brick and mortar, as this is a common experience for many women (e.g. Charlotte Langley, who does pop ups out of her home, among other things, and Victoria Blamey, who continues to work at various celebrated restaurants)," she wrote.

Throughout the film, we jump back and forth between each chef as they talk about their own restaurants and respective experiences. But common themes emerge. Cohen brings up how the media has played a part in erasing and writing women chefs out of history, citing Eugénie Brazier as an example. Brazier was a wildly successful French chef—the first-ever, in fact, to earn six Michelin stars. (Later, Cohen says, people seemed to forget about this when Alain Ducasse achieved the same.) Blamey calls out the double standard of being seen as "difficult" because she's a tough leader; Lo says she had never worked under a woman chef and felt a deep responsibility to be a mentor. And Langley often gets asked to make pastries for events—"do I look like a pastry chef?" She asks.

Anita Lo at Annisa.
Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

"There's a saying that men cook for glory and women cook for love—and if we do, it's because of how we were raised. And of that social construct. But as a chef, you really want to be judged on your work, your gender really has nothing to do with it." Lo says.

The topic of assault and harassment, a continuing conversation in the restaurant industry (especially in light of #MeToo), is also addressed. Knight recalls an incident where she was assaulted by the sous chef at the restaurant she was working in—when she told the owner, they told her she was in the wrong. She says that if we want to change this behavior and repeating cycle of abuse, it's up to the chef to dictate culture in the kitchen.

"I'm not sure whether things have improved for women that much in the kitchen," Blamey says. "The fight, and the struggle, and the complaints are still the same."

Later on, we also see that two of the restaurants featured face closure. Barr's Saturday Dinette shuttered in summer 2017 after she had problems with her landlord; this year, she's taking on the role of Head Chef at Avling Kitchen and Brewery in Toronto, according to her bio page. As for Lo's widely celebrated restaurant, Annisa, it too closed after 17 years on Barrow Street. There wasn't any conflict—Lo simply said she wants to do something else, after almost 30 years in the industry. The Heat was on the scene of Annisa's final night as the staff gathered in the kitchen, toasted Champagne, and started to sing.  

As the film comes to a close, the chefs look to the future. Lo says that the problem won't be fixed solely by having more women in the kitchen, and that "we can't solve this problem just from our side;" Barr acknowledges that kitchens aren't diverse enough, and her goal, her dream is to offer training—right now, the focus is women. And Cohen believes that we need to start celebrating "good kitchens," and happy places to work that are supportive of their workers. Otherwise, "we will ruin our industry if we don't fix this problem to make it less macho."

"A restaurant is a way to show people we love them," Pic says in the closing line.

"The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution" is available now on Netflix (U.S.), Amazon, and iTunes.

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