Last night at his Harlem restaurant Red Rooster's downstairs music venue, chef Marcus Samuelsson joined fellow NYC chefs Gabrielle Hamilton (Prune), Floyd Cardoz (North End Grill), and Charlene Johnson-Hadley (American Table Bar and Cafe) for a panel conversation about diversity in restaurant kitchens. Hosted by Mother Jones and reporter Tom Philpott, the chefs' discussion ranged from the challenges of coming up in the restaurant world when you don't look like the other cooks in the kitchen to perceptions of ethnic cuisines to celebrity chefs. Samuelsson opened the conversation talking about facing a backstop in French kitchens: "They'd never seen the narrative of the black chef, it just didn't exist." Below, the best quotes from the conversation:
1) Samuelsson, on racism in French kitchens: "My aspirations were not only to be a line cook where I was, I wanted to own my own place. I remember when I started to ask those questions, the answer was very clear: 'C'est pas possible.' It's not possible, in France ... They'd never seen the narrative of the black chef, it just didn't exist. As challenging as that can be it also gives you clarity of where you should not work. You have to leave."
2) Samuelsson, on Michelin: "A tire company says who's going to be the best restaurants. It's like a joke."
3) Hamilton, on coming up through male-dominated kitchens: "Yes, there were horrible white men in the kitchens and the hardest part of that is the contortions you'd put yourself through to figure out your place in that kitchen. Should I be a chain-smoking dirt-talking motherf*cker who can crank it f*cking out? Or should I be kind of a dainty female with lipstick and be like 'Can you help me with this stock pot because I just can't?' Frankly it's a freaking second job on top of what you're already doing. One of the hardest parts is trying to a viable self that you can live with and and go home and respect at the end of the day."
4) Cardoz, on being Indian in American kitchens: "It was hard because I thought I was the same and I could cook as well as everybody else. But the system was very different ... you had to be an ass in the kitchen ... so you learned very fast, because you're a foreigner and you need to do things quickly.
5) Hamilton, on the angry chef stereotype: "I find it very attractive sometimes. I've heard those stories, which I could never bring myself to do but it's very appealing ... But we're so not allowed to be angry. It's so ugly for ladies to be angry. You're not allowed to do it."
6) Hamilton, on a new breed of cooks: "Now we have a whole new crop of 'actually, I used to be an architect.' And 'I have a trust fund.' And 'I have so much more money than you, power than you, than you're ever going to have in this world.' And then you have to go up to this guy and go like, 'You know, you're sauce is a little salty.'"
7) Johnson-Hadley, on why there aren't more women and chefs of color on TV: "There are tons of talented cooks, and they are comfortable being being talented cooks. It's not like they don't exist. They are there ... A lot of them are not even taught or pushed to take that step towards saying 'Listen, you're awesome, people need to know what it is that you do.' That concept doesn't even cross their minds."
8) Hamilton, on women cooking on TV: "I would love it if you could see some women cooking on television or in magazines that don't look so femme-y, always with their hair down. And also, if we could see a pair of black women's hands doing something other than making biscuit dough."
9) Samuelsson, on the Time Gods of Food debacle: "I think it's giving Time too much credit ... They didn't do the homework. They deserve zero attention for it."
10) Cardoz, on culinary bias: "When we opened Tabla, we did face a lot of resistance because people did believe you can't have high class Chinese food, you can't have high class Indian food ... it's really hard when you're doing an ethnic cuisine that you can get for $5 ... You have to fight it all the time, to say 'No. If you want to eat this, you have to pay for it because it's made with care.'"