Despite the disturbing decision to have the foul-mouthed Chef Gordon Ramsay at the forefront, the new reality kid show MasterChef Junior, airing on FOX Sept. 27, has the opportunity to do something very positive by helping kids get past the myth that women dominate as cooks at home and while men are chefs in professional kitchens.
MasterChef Junior has a pretty even gender balance of 24 contestants ages eight to 13, giving kids the chance to demonstrate their culinary talents via a series of challenges and cook-offs similar to the grown-up version MasterChef.
MasterChef is co-hosted and co-produced by Gordon Ramsay, produced by Shine America and One Potato Two Potato the company responsible for MasterChef Junior which Ramsay will also host.
This is an important moment in television for the culinary arts as it may lead to the world seeing girls in the role of aspiring professional chef on the same level with boys. It’s equally important that boys who are not interested in becoming chefs see that cooking is cooking no matter where you do it and it’s cool for them to take culinary arts in high school.
According to the FOX website, judges include Ramsay, restaurateur and winemaker Joe Bastianich (Del Posto, Eataly) and acclaimed chef Graham Elliot (Graham Elliot, Graham Elliot Bistro).
“Together, the celebrated food experts will coach and encourage the promising hopefuls to cook like pros and teach them the tricks of the trade along the way,” according to the FOX site.
Both boys and girls need to see “chef” as a gender-neutral career path.
In the realm of famous female chefs we are success starved with few popular examples such as Chef Cristeta Comerford, the first woman appointed White House head chef in 2005, and the only two woman to win Top Chef out of 10 seasons.
There is a good deal of evidence to support female chefs' claims that they are discriminated against in the culinary profession. In 2011 the website The Feminist Kitchen ran a guest blog co-authored by Deborah Harris and Patti Giuffre who teach sociology at Texas State University in San Marcos. They wrote about their project exploring the work and life experiences of women in the culinary industry.
The blog post was written after interviewing 32 female culinary professionals in Texas and researching how critics and food writers help shape what it means to be a “chef” and how this can be gendered.
Professor Harris said today in an phone interview that the male domination of the professional kitchen dates back to the mid-1700s and the “kitchen brigades of the military. The industry has remained so male dominated because the profession is a holdover from the military as early is the mid-1700s and the kitchen brigade. Then [Georges Auguste] Escoffier, the French chef and culinary writer tried to make it into a profession, so he had to make a distinction between the men making it an art and the women typically cooking in the kitchen.”
“After Escoffier cooking, when done in the home was associated more with women than men, but professional, high-status cooking has remained the domain of men despite inroads women have made into other traditionally male-dominated careers,” said Harris who is now co-authoring a book on the topic with Giuffre.
The Texas study found some of the blame lies with the media, specifically food critics who refer to men as “masters,” a very male word, while down-playing the roles of their female counterparts in the industry.
“Men were given credit for the intellectual and technical work involved in producing a dish. They are masters who dominate the food they produce,” Harris and Giuffre reported in the blog. “Critics rarely mentioned technical skills of women – they are more likely to be praised for being ‘hard workers.’ ”
When it comes to this new show I like the fresh ideas which may produce more friendly professional environments for women in the future.
My kids will watch it but know that they are not to watch Ramsay online for fear his cornucopia of cussing will make their talk too salty.