“I know it doesn’t make sense, and I don’t understand it. But it is consistently the case: Women are better cooks. They approach food differently,” says Mario Batali, celebrity chef and owner of Babbo, in Bill Buford’s Book Heat.
Women certainly don’t have it easy in the kitchen though. In a predominantly male dominated industry, female chefs are still an exception, but women are moving to stake their claim as the best out there. The Culinary Institute of America, the nation’s premier culinary school, didn’t accept women until 1970, but now 44% of its students (out of 3,000) are women. As we enter Women’s History Month, we want to celebrate 10 outstanding female chefs who have pushed their field, made way for other female chefs, and have created delicious food.
Julia Child followed her husband to Paris, where she attended Le Cordon Bleu and discovered a love of French cuisine. From there, she went on to write the seminal text Mastering the Art of French Cooking as well as eighteen other books. In 1963, her first television show, The French Chef, debuted. While it was not the first food show, it was certainly the most successful to date and made Julia Child the household name she is today. Interestingly, The French Chef was also the first show to be closed-captioned for the hearing-impaired.
In 1993, Child was the first woman inducted into the CIA Hall of Fame and is today fondly remembered as the person who brought real French cuisine to the average American table.
Waters is credited with writing 12 food-related books, largely about the California Cuisine movement she was instrumental in founding. In addition, she was the first female chef to win the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef in 1992 — Chez Panisse won Best Restaurant that year as well.
Bonus Fact: Waters was a member of the Alpha Phi sorority before she became the radical, food activist she is today.
But it wasn’t always accolades and deep fried Twinkies for Paula Deen. Both her parents died before she was 19. To make matters worse, her early marriage ended in divorce and left her with a severe case of agoraphobia. Throughout that difficult time, however, she remained a proficient Southern cook, which eventually lead her to a great career and the celebrity status she enjoys today.
Cora is also the Executive Chef for Bon Appetit magazine and a spokesperson for UNICEF and InSinkErator. Talk about combining food and philanthropy.
Known for her platinum, spiky hair and her inventive desserts, Falkner is working to break down the boundaries between savory cuisine and pastry. Throughout her career she has remained a mentor and example to many women chefs, both by example – having opened two very successful restaurants – and by involvement in Les Dames d’Escoffier and Women Chefs and Restaurants.
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
In 1981, the family opened Felidia in a small Manhattan brownstone, which received a three star review from the New York Times in 1994, becoming one of the first women chef to receive a three star review.
In the beginning of this year, Comerford partnered with Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America and beat Emeril Lagasse and Mario Batali.
Reichl’s love of food eventually lead her not only to cook but also to write about food for the LA Times, where she was restaurant editor; the New York Times, where she was the restaurant critic; and, most recently Gourmet, where she was Editor-in-Chief until 2009. While she’s no longer a restaurant chef, Reichl’s ability to make or break a restaurant with words stems from her real knowledge of the kitchen. She has also been the recipient of four James Beard Awards, all related to her work in food media.