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At the Cherry Bombe Jubilee, #MeToo Commands the Forefront

The best quotes from the New York City conference for women in food

Courtesy of Cherry Bombe
Monica Burton is the deputy editor of Eater.com.

On Saturday, Cherry Bombe — the biannual magazine that focuses on women in the food world — held its annual New York City Jubilee. At the start of the day-long conference, organizers and Cherry Bombe co-founders Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu announced a casual theme for the day: In the wake of the #MeToo movement, women finally have a voice — what should they do with that voice now?

Panelists and speakers, including keynote guests Nigella Lawson and Ruth Rogers, shared their experiences in the industry and offered advice to the group of attendees, made up of women (and a few men) from all areas of the food industry. (More about their most enlightening quotes below.) But a dramatic afternoon panel addressed the fallout of #MeToo head on.

The “Broad Lights, Broad Nation” panel, moderated by New York Times writer Kim Severson and featuring Sweetbitter author Stephanie Danler; Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg; and chefs Mashama Bailey, Adrienne Cheatham, and Angie Mar, turned heated. Following a discussion on whether the “reckoning,” as Severson called it, has changed kitchen behavior, Agg turned the tables on Severson and asked to have a conversation about the media’s responsibility in covering noted bad actors in the restaurant industry — specifically, Agg wanted to confront Severson about a New York Times article that reported on Mario Batali’s next steps.

“Let’s just say that I agree that it’s news that [Mario Batali] divested from his company,” Agg began. “If it is, in the fairest possible way, I just hated the framing assumption... ‘a world kicked out from under him,’” Agg said, referencing a line in the story. “You know this. I know that you know this.”

The piece Agg was referring to was criticized on social media after it was published, but Severson defended it. “My perspective as a writer for the New York Times is very different from yours as a bar owner,” Severson said to Agg during the panel. “I see it as an expose because he certainly didn’t want it to come out. I thought it was very interesting even as a cultural litmus test. The fact is this major personality is trying to figure out if he can come back three months after he was exposed for this behavior.”

Severson said she and her editors went back and forth on whether to include the perspective of a Batali victim in the piece but ultimately decided that it felt “incongruous” and was a much more “nuanced” story than the news story she ended up writing. Agg, meanwhile, insisted the published article was a redemption story. “Is it? Or is he just totally creamed because people found out what he was up to and they creamed him?” Severson asked.

Severson asked the panelists if they would go eat at a Mario Batali restaurant given what has happened. Agg said no: “I could not go back to a restaurant where it’s clear and obvious that my money is now going into the pockets of a monster.” But when Severson posed the same question about April Bloomfield, whose partner Ken Friedman was accused of sexual harassment, the response from the panelists was mixed.

Bailey, chef and partner at Savannah restaurant the Grey, was conflicted. “I don’t necessarily believe that it was all innocent and all one sided,” she said, and added that she would like to know more about how much Bloomfield knew about Friedman’s behavior before making a decision one way or the other.

Danler agreed that she would want more information in regards to Bloomfield. She did recently visit Nancy Silverton’s restaurant Mozza, a part of Batali’s restaurant group, and noted she has “a really hard time punishing” all of the people involved in running that restaurant. Mar, chef-owner of Beatrice Inn, has worked directly with Bloomfield, and acknowledged that it was a tough question.

But Cheatham, the Top Chef runner up currently working in New York City, isn’t visiting a Bloomfield restaurant anytime soon. “Should we not hold the women accountable for their role in it also?” she asked. “You have to hold everybody accountable for true equality. I think April is amazing... It pains me to not support her with my dollar and my business, but I support her with my heart and soul.”

Here are the best quotes from the rest of the day.

  • Nigella Lawson on the difference between chefs and home cooks: “What creates food is a certain desire for conflict and a certain fueled mania, and what I seek in my cooking is to diffuse that. I have plenty of adrenaline-fueled mania in my head. I don’t need that in my cooking.”
  • Lawson on sous-vide machines: “I don’t enjoy any form of cooking that removes me from the food. Why would I want to put food in a bit of plastic and watch it cook?”
  • San Francisco chef Preeti Mistry on failure: “I’m blessed because everyone expects me to fail, and all of you are in the same place. You might not tick all of the same boxes of otherness that I do, but because you are a woman with ambition, there are people out there ready to say who does she think she is?”
  • Ruth Rogers, chef and owner of the River Cafe in London, on changing the conversation around work-life balance in the restaurant industry: “Whenever people say is it hard for women to be chefs... I usually say it’s hard to be a journalist, isn’t it? It’s hard to be a lawyer. It’s hard to be an architect. It’s hard to be a woman and work... I think that myth that being a chef is an impossible job has to change or we’ll never get the right people to work for us.”
  • Former White Gold butcher Jocelyn Guest’s advice to a young chef on deciding where to work: “Not that it’s all happy happy joy joy all the time; it’s not. But for me personally, I would pick community over, like, tweezers.”
  • Camilla Marcus, owner of New York City restaurant West-bourne, on investing in women: “If we decided that women were going to support women and women were going to invest in women, I think we could blow the world out of the water.”
  • Writer and cookbook author Samin Nosrat on the history of cooking: “I’m so infuriated about the fact that 10,000 years ago humans started cooking and for 10,000 years women cooked. And then 200 years ago it became professionalized and there was glory involved, and then it was the man’s space.”
  • Jerrelle Guy, founder of food blog Chocolate for Basil, on the power of food: “It’s such a wonderful communicator, and I think it has its own language, and coming from the social environment that I was raised in, where maybe my father didn’t give me a space or encourage my voice, there just wasn’t that place for that. I turned to food and found it was such a wonderful way to express myself.”
  • Restaurant investor Alice Lee on why it can be hard for women to secure funding for restaurants: “There’s a tendency for male chefs and restaurateurs to be seen as geniuses and or great businessmen, and then female chefs and restaurateurs to be seen as hobbyists and home chefs, and that’s really pernicious and can be really harmful.”
  • Food entrepreneur Emshika Alberini: “To me, food doesn’t have to be fancy. If it takes you back to the time in your memory or brings you closer to your loved ones, your food has completed its mission.”
  • Angie Mar, chef and owner of the Beatrice Inn, on mentors: “The real question is in moving forward in a positive way and moving away from all of this negative stuff — how do we create more of these people? How do we create the next Mimi Sheratons and Jordana Rothmans and Kerry Diamonds? How do we foster an environment where we are creating positivity?”