San Francisco chef Dominique Crenn has had to endure a lot of sexism over the years, god bless her heart. A leader in the notoriously-female-unfriendly industry of putting food in an oven and taking it out again, even when she's written about positively, as she was in a recent New York Times profile, she's still confronted with crap like a quote from Chronicle critic Michael Bauer saying (I guess it's supposed to be a compliment?) "She cooks the way the men are cooking." But in recent days the Atelier Crenn founder has demonstrated that she's also ready to tackle fools the way
men we all should tackle fools, by firmly correcting their errant ways.
First, there was her appearance Saturday as part of a four-chef panel for San Pellegrino's World's 50 Best Restaurants list at the Sydney Opera House. During the audience Q&A portion of the event, Crenn, the only woman on the panel, was asked by a male audience member if she regretted that she had missed out on what he "considered to be the very important role of being a mother to children." I'll let Australian reporter Jane de Graaff take if from here:
Then, a swelling ripple of uncomfortable gasps and muttering.
Followed by Crenn sitting back and stating "well that's a loaded question," with a wide grin.
It should be added that Crenn had already deliberately steered away from this line of questioning earlier in the talk, when Graham noted that he had previously lost female chefs because there is simply a certain 'time' when women step out of their cooking careers to have children, and that it is unavoidable.
What Crenn had said at this juncture was basically 'thank you, yes we need to stop pretending that we are all the same, but I also think we need to change the conversation around this.'
Now the question is legitimate, it was simply phrased poorly by a nervous speaker and as such came across as not only prying, but judgmental and sexist. It also disregarded Crenn's heroic statement that we need to change the way we think about this conundrum for women in any industry. But, faced with such a bald inquiry in a public forum, Crenn did not shy away, or get angry, or even claim her right to privacy on such matters. What she did instead was something that caused the audience -male and female—to erupt into heartfelt applause.
First she pointed out that everyone has to weigh up their personal life against their career. Everyone—no matter what their gender—makes choices and decisions every day when it comes to their career; "I hope you have to make them too".
Next she asked the speaker if he even knew if she had children, or if he simply assumed that she did not because of where she was and what she was doing—highlighting just the kind of conversation that needs to be changed. She then revealed that she in fact has twin daughters, something that she has kept out of the sphere of common knowledge. It shouldn't shape how we see her as a chef.
Finally, she finished with a most radiant example of just how we can begin to 'change the conversation', with this for her questioner; "If you have kids, I hope you stay home with them, so that your wife can go out and be a bad ass woman."
The. Applause. Was. Deafening.
But Crenn wasn't done fighting the battle against medieval thought quite yet, as Eater SF notes that Monday, she took Vice to task for an article quoting Dutch chefs on “the absence of boobs in the workplace.” Gems from the article include one chef's remark that "Good female cooks often quit their work because the boyfriend, for example, finds it hard to be in second place; his girl is often away from home and that means he has to cook his own food," another's that "it's still more of a male thing to have the strength to work long hours, isn't it?" and third shining example of masculinity who said "I want more women in the kitchen. They don't necessarily all have to be beautiful, though that would be a bonus, of course."
I am sure there are other equally offensive quotes, but I started getting so pissed I had to close that tab. Crenn, however, has more fortitude than me, and went after the publication on Twitter:
@munchies Terrible article. Who are those people. Sad.. ignorant and uneducated.. I am disappointed with You Munchies !!!!— dominique crenn (@dominiquecrenn) April 3, 2017
As Jay wrote last month, "it sure would be nice if the success of a female chef weren't still treated, in 2017, as if it were cause for great surprise and wonder." But until the seemingly regressive food world catches up with the times, watching the Michelin-starred Crenn show those bozos what's what will continue to be a feminist delight.