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How Do We Fix Food TV’s Diversity Problem?

From the Editor: The gender imbalance of “Chef’s Table” should be a call to action

Christina Tosi, the only female chef on ‘Chef’s Table: Pastry’
Photo: Christina Tosi / Facebook

This post originally appeared on March 24, 2018, in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.

When Chef’s Table, Netflix’s high-touch documentary series focused on chefs at the top of their game, announced a small spin-off season about pastry chefs, I half assumed it was a way for the producers to correct their underrepresentation of female subjects in the main series. One could argue — I wouldn’t, but one could — that most Chef’s Table seasons skew male because men dominate the segment of the industry the show most often focuses on — bucket-list tasting menu destinations around the world. But, traditionally, women dominate pastry. While plenty of men excel in in the field, it’s the pink-collar job of the restaurant industry.

Thus, I was a little surprised to see that only one out of four of the subjects chosen for this pastry season is a woman. And she is the most mainstream, famous woman the world of pastry has ever known! The show’s producer tweeted that they had a hard time fully researching this season because of the low level of media attention for pastry chefs, but I can think of about 100,000 experts they could have asked.

So… there’s that. My longtime critique of the show is the lack of female talking heads, as I know so, so, so, so (so!) many eloquent, camera-ready food experts who could speak to these far-flung restaurant experiences and what they mean in the broader context of the restaurant world. But now I’m annoyed about this pastry thing.

All of that, combined with the critiques of the lack of women in David Chang’s Ugly Delicious, got me thinking about the struggles we face on the other side of the camera here at Eater. I am incredibly proud of the diversity of stories we’re able to tell in video, the number of women and people of color who are featured in our videos. But I’m also acutely aware of how hard it has been for us to successfully launch shows hosted by women.

Part of it is convincing women that it’s a good idea (which is… probably easier for Netflix than it is for me!); as I’ve experienced in other parts of media, men are often just better self promoters. Part of it is our failure to proactively tap into our own networks to recruit and retain hosts — for example, three out of four female “hosts” on Eater were staffers. And part of it is the “success” part of the equation, when your success depends on the acceptance of a mostly male audience on YouTube, which we primarily make videos for. It’s on us to just do it anyway and ideally change the demographics through our coverage. (Stay tuned for two female-hosted shows coming soon).

Anyway. I say all of that to ask YOU this: What if we build a talent database full of all the wonderful-but-underrepresented chefs, beverage professionals, food experts, and talking heads out there to hand to production companies and media outlets, making their jobs easier? What if it has head shots and contact info and a list of areas of expertise? Would it be too big to be useful? Would a Chef’s Table producer even use it or care at all? Are they more interested in discovering their own talent or leaning on their own networks?

My real question is: Could it make a real positive change, or would it just make me feel good about doing something so I can move on to another thing?

Thoughts, suggestions — email me at

This week in bad men

Mike Isabella, the Top Chef star and head of a $30 million empire, was accused of sexual harassment in a lawsuit filed by a former top manager. She accuses him of physical and verbal harassment and of including her on inappropriate text exchanges, and another employee says Isabella kissed her on the cheek without consent. In December! Of 2017! You’d think bosses would think twice about kissing and touching their employees after the autumn of #MeToo.

Since the Washington Post piece about the allegations — which Isabella and his lawyers are fully denying — Isabella’s publicist, The Nationals Stadium, and an online ordering service have dropped his restaurants. José Andrés’s non-profit Dine-N-Dash restaurant crawl downplayed his involvement with the event. And, of course, we’re in the process of removing him from our regularly updated Eater guides and maps.

Openings of the week

Adding these to my travel agenda:

Vegas: Ricardo Zarate’s Once

He’s a very big deal Peruvian chef from LA, and this is his first Vegas spot.

The bar at Once
Photo by Amelinda B. Lee

Nashville: Emmy Squared

This is the Detroit-style, New York-based pizza place currently on an expansion tear.

Emmy Squared
Photo by Emily Bolles/Emmy Squared

LA: The Henry

A pretty, new all-day cafe.

The Henry
Photo by Wonho Frank Lee

On Eater

Last week on the Upsell

Dan and I spoke with feminists Jessica Valenti and Lindy West about performative eating, fatness, and social norms. Ignorant me, but until this episode I had never realized that it’s a privilege for me to be able to post a picture of brownies or pizza or pasta on Instagram without facing the judgement or derision of the online crowd. Give it a listen here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Off Eater

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