The November 18 issue of Time magazine includes a list of the 13 "Gods of Food," a chef's family tree, and a series of articles about the key "influencers" in food today. No female chefs made the "Gods" list, nor were any included in the modern restaurant lineage. Four women made the Gods list: Aida Batlle (coffee producer); Amrita Patel (Chairman of India's National Dairy Development Board); Vandana Shiva (environmental activist and author); and Ertharin Cousin (head of the U.N. World Food Programme).
To find out more, Eater National spoke with the "Gods of Food" section editor Howard Chua-Eoan about how the issue came together and why the only two female chefs covered are pastry chefs with a short mention in a sidebar (subs. required). "We did not want to fill a quota of a woman chef," Chua-Eoan explains. "We wanted to go with reputation and influence."
In the conversation below, he explains how Alice Waters almost made the cut, how Time simply reflected the "harsh reality" of the culinary world, and why he thinks the media has no obligation to "advocate for anything" when it comes to the gender gap among famous chefs. "There was no attempt to exclude women," says Chua-Eoan of the issue, "we just went with the basic realities of what was going on and who was being talked about." All that and more, this way:
How did you decide on who was a God of Food? What were your criteria?
Howard Chua-Eoan: We wanted to make it as far-ranging as possible, so it wouldn't just be chefs. That's not Time magazine's forte or calling, actually, to name the most important chefs. It's really to look for people who are the most influential in terms of food. There will be chefs, of course, because chefs influence the way we eat and what we eat, and they create trends and fashions in food. So that was what we started with. So we went through the entire range: people who create the food, people who cook the food, people who distribute the food, people who own the companies that give you the food, everything like that.
On the family tree, how did you decide who were pillars and who were outliers? What were the criteria there?
The criteria was really who had the most interesting lineage tree, because it's a graphic. It has to sort of catch the eye. When we had started, it must have been 300 names, it was unmanageable, but we slowly pared it down to the tree that looked most interesting and had the most interesting, current restaurants. As well as a few names on top, and we decided in the end we would go with a geographical spread: Copenhagen, Paris, Spain, and Thomas Keller. We were trying not to do someone who was in New York — not because New York isn't the center of the food world, but because everyone knows New York is the center of the food world — and Keller let us do both in and out of New York.
When you were putting the issue together, did you consider gender balance? How so?
I know that we considered putting Alice Waters as one of the original four pillars of the chart. Gender balance is important of course. We have four women on our gods list, four goddesses so to speak. And we were considering Alice Waters, but her chart... The thing about Alice is she retains a lot of loyalty, the people who work in her kitchens stay. There are a couple of big names who came out her kitchen, April [Bloomfield] and Dan Barber, I think, but otherwise the tree was sort of thin. So we had to go with someone else at that point. Alice is, of course, iconic.
Why are there no female chefs on the chef family tree?
Well I think it reflects one very harsh reality of the current chefs' world, which unfortunately has been true for years: it's still a boys club. There are of course very good and terrific female chefs: Carme Ruscalleda, Elena Arzak, April [Bloomfield] of course, Anita Lo of course, and of course Alice [Waters]. But it's very strange, the network of women, as Anita herself has been saying for so many years now, isn't as strong as the network of men.
And when you look at this chart it's very clear. It's all men because men still take care of themselves. The women really need someone — if not men, themselves actually — to sort of take care of each other. The thing about the women I named, they are all spectacularly good chefs. But they also had to force their way to where they are now, they are almost their own creations. It's unfortunate, the women who are there are very good, but very few of them actually benefitted from the boys club, as you can see from the chart.
Thinking more about the chart, I know Suzanne Goin trained with Alain Passard. I do think there are women who can be included in the network.
We went with the chefs with the most name recognition and the hot restaurants at the moment. I think there were various other factors as well. But there was no attempt to exclude women, we just went with the basic realities of what was going on and who was being talked about. And a geographical spread as well. One of the points of the lineage was not just to show who came from who, but also to show how far the reach runs into various cities around the world because this chart is in the international edition and in the U.S.
Why did you decide not to include any female chefs in the Gods of Food?
We discussed that for a while, we actually thought about it. We wanted to name a couple. Another reality: none of them have a restaurant that we believe matches the breadth and size and basically empire of some of these men that we picked. They have the reputation and all that and it's an unfortunate thing. The female chef is a relatively recent phenomenon, except for Alice who has been around for a long time. None of them have the recent breadth that these guys have.
Well, of course there's Barbara Lynch, who owns about as many restaurants as David Chang does.
Well, that's true, but they are all geographically in one place, right?
Well, yes, she's in Boston.
She's terrific. I heard her speak at MAD, she's quite wonderful. In terms of influence? I think she's an inspiration. I don't think she has that cultural influence that David Chang has. David is a very good entrepreneur, which is something beyond just being a cook. She is as well, of course, but she's kept herself very local.
You were saying that the women don't match the prestige level. But I'm thinking of accomplished chefs — and you mentioned some of them — like Elena Arzak. Or Clare Smyth who was the first woman in England to earn three Michelin stars, Dominique Crenn in San Francisco. None of these women could be considered a god?
As I mentioned, these women are wonderful, but they don't have that... We're hoping we can repeat this next year, and that we will be able to do more. At this point, rather than have someone on the list who other people will say "fills a quota," we did not want to fill a quota of a woman chef just because she's a woman. We wanted to go with reputation and influence.
You did include two female pastry chefs. Why are the only female chefs included relegated to a side bar?
Well we had 13 original gods of food. We were thinking of a sidebar, and we thought of pastry and those are the names that came up. The sidebar was, as all sidebars, not a major consideration in the 13 gods of food. They're important but, as you know, sidebars are little side thoughts.
What role does the media play, if any, in the gender gap among famous chefs?
I think the media covers the industry. I don't think the media has to advocate for anything. Of course, if chefs advocate for things and make news about it, as Anita has for years, talking about the gender divide among chefs, then I think it's worthwhile to cover them. But bring the subject up? I think we need someone to tell us, someone there who has an opinion that we can then reflect.
You don't think that the media has a role?
No, I think it does. Especially if the chefs talk about it, then we can cover it. If the female chefs talk about it, we'll cover it. But this story, this package is about influence. It's not about the social and gender roles in the world of haute cuisine. If there had been someone who had made a huge stir this year about how terrible it is, then perhaps. But even then we'd have to consider it against everyone else we want to include.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I'm just sorry that not everything got into the domestic issue.