It has been just over a year since Time released its controversial "Gods of Food" issue — which excluded women — but now another publication has made the same oversight. Mpls. St. Paul magazine is in the spotlight this week for failing to feature a female chef in its latest best restaurants issue. According to Eater Minneapolis, the March issue features 15 chefs, all of whom are male. The chefs were "deemed the best in the Twin Cities" by the magazine's editorial staff. The move quickly raised the question, "Where are the women?" and plenty of anger.
Time's story "stood for ignorance and a willful blind eye."
Stephanie March, the senior food editor at the magazine, responded to the outrage with a post on the magazine's blog. March claims that it is unfair to equate Mpls. St. Paul's cover to "that icky" Time magazine story, because Time's story "stood for ignorance and a willful blind eye." Her magazine's story is that of the 50 best local restaurants and all the chefs couldn't fit in the kitchen where the photo was shot. Therefore, they had to pick the chefs from the top 12 restaurants and it had nothing to do with gender:
"If you have to pick the 12 best for a picture, who would you choose? Now, which female would you swap for which male, because there are only 12 spots? There are three medals at the Bocuse d'Or, only one chef walks away from the Best Chef Midwest category with a James Beard Award, you can't say "well let's just add more so we can include everyone." But people have suggested that we should have included women in the picture just to be more fair. Quite honestly, isn't the "token" metric just as offensive as a blind eye?"
March's logic is similar to Time editor Howard Chua-Eoan', who told Eater shortly after the controversial issue debuted that it "simply reflected the ‘harsh reality' of the culinary world." The issue featured a "family tree" of chefs which failed to list any female chefs, and a cover that starred chefs David Chang, Alex Atala, and René Redzepi. He added that Time did not "attempt to exclude women," but that they just "went with the basic realities of what was going on and who was being talked about." Like March, he didn't "want to fill a quota" but wanted to focus on "reputation and influence."
In her post, March is quick to point out that the issue of the magazine, unlike Time, honors multiple female chefs in various stories. She lists of a number of names — Ann Kim, Carrie Summer, Lisa Carlson, and Christina Nguyen — that received attention in the issue, even though they did not make it on to the cover.
James Beard Award winning writer and contributor to the issue Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl took to Facebook to express a similar opinion. When asked for her take on the issue, she responded: "Um, what part of it? The part of my take would you like? The part how the outrage willfully skips over my massive 3,000 word profile of Lucia [Watson] inside the magazine?... That Kim Bartmann is the lead finger pointer, and hired two top-restaurant chef positions last year (The Third Bird) and Tiny Diner (filling that spot twice) and filled those spots with men?"
It's a false and embarrassing representation of our diverse food community.
Unfortunately, March's defense only outraged a group of female chefs and restaurateurs (some of whom were included in the issue) who wrote a letter to the Star Tribune: "We're outraged at the viewpoint taken by the cover and subsequent editorial comments on the March issue of Mpls St. Paul Magazine depicting the best chefs of the Twin Cities as all male. It's a false and embarrassing representation of our diverse food community."
Chef Jamie Malone — who is currently working on opening a new restaurant — simply posted a link to her 2014 Esquire piece titled "Penis or Vagina: Which is the Better Kitchen Tool?" as her response. In the piece she declares the "question of women vs. men and who's getting the most attention is meaningless because we're meant to collaborate."
Are the top 12 restaurants in the Twin Cities really headed up by such a homogenous pool of white, male chefs?
What is perhaps most interesting in the criticism of the magazine cover is that most of the outrage was directed at the lack of female chefs. However, a quick glance reveals that the cover is also mainly comprised of white men. Are the top 12 restaurants in the Twin Cities really headed up by such a homogenous pool of chefs? Maybe a bigger question needs to raised here that goes beyond including women and people of color. Mpls. St. Paul may very well have chosen the "best" chefs upon merit and talent, but perhaps it is how they — and the staff at Time, and many other publications — measure that metric that needs to be recalibrated. The food and restaurant world is a varied and beautiful place rife with interesting and diverse voices. But, they can only shine if given the space and chance to do so.