Dominique Crenn, Ana Ros and Claudia Canessa tell Moneyish about sexism in culinary and the culture of #MeToo
These world famous female chefs have a key ingredient for combating sexism and harassment in the culinary industry: zero tolerance.
Moneyish spoke with three prominent chefs — Dominique Crenn, Ana Ros and Claudia Canessa — about the #MeToo movement, being minorities at food festivals and award ceremonies, and advocating for other women in food. These are their stories:
Chef Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco
Chef Dominique Crenn, owner of the artful French eatery Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, wasn’t afraid to speak up when a male chef crossed the line. But when she did, her boss did something worse: nothing.
“I left a situation that was just so toxic,” Crenn recalls of working at a kitchen she wishes not to disclose in San Francisco in the early 90s. “I was on the line and one of the sous chefs was totally harassing me, saying things that were very sexual. I went to the chef and I said, ‘I feel very uncomfortable working on the line, and I won’t stand for it.’ The chef told me ‘This is normal, if you can’t handle this, you can leave.’”
She did. And when she went on to build her own kitchen, Atelier Crenn — which has two Michelin Stars, making her the highest ranked female chef in the country — she vowed never to tolerate that behavior and be an alley for women who are afraid to speak up.
“Sometimes when a woman is assaulted, there are people around that know about it, but don’t act because they’re afraid — if you say something, you’ll never get a job in the field, or they’ll make sure your life is hell,” she says.
Today, Crenn’s kitchens are comprised of mostly females (she says about 60% of her staff are female) — and she makes sure people feel comfortable reporting harassment. “The reason why I created this company [Atelier Crenn] is to create a safe space for people to come to be who they want to be, to be respected, to grow and to inspire others. I say that not just for women, but also for men. Any sexual harassment in my company will not be tolerated,” she says.
In 2016, Crenn won the award for World’s Best Female Chef by San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, an honor she took at first reluctantly when she called out the organization for repetadelty including more men than women in its annual list.
“I was very frank. I said in a couple of years, I hope you don’t have this award. A chef is a chef, it doesn’t matter if they are male or female,” she says. “The reason why I didn’t reject it [the award for Best Female Chef] was because I told them upfront I want this to be a platform for the change, and I don’t want to use it just as an award. I’m willing to be a part of the change, but you’ve got to do the work, it’s not just my face that’s going to make it okay,” she says.
Now she’s using her voice to lift up other women whom, she says, deserve to be celebrated and recognized. Beginning in March, Crenn is starting a dinner series hosting 12 renowned female chefs like Nancy Silverton and Einat Admony for six dinners at her Hayes Valley restaurant Petit Crenn.
“It’s needed,” she says. “A lot of people want things to change, but I’m not seeing a lot of things happen. There are thousands of really good female chefs in this country and in the world and it’s time for them to be on the forefront.”
Chef Ana Ros of Hisa Franko in Kobarid, Slovenia
Ana Ros, a chef from Slovenia who taught herself how to cook by accident when taking over her husband’s family restaurant Hisa Franko in Kobarid, was voted the World’s Best Female Chef in 2017 by San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, putting her tiny country on the culinary map.
“I said, ‘of course I’m accepting it [the award]. First, I’m not in a position to say no, I’m from Slovenia, no man’s land. Nobody knows about it. It’s an honor, you can’t say no to that. On the other hand, it’s a way for me to be a role model and speak out for girls in the kitchen. I’m still a mother, and have two great children, and I’m successful, so all of these things are possible,” she says.
But getting to where she is today wasn’t easy. Ros got pregnant around the time she took over the restaurant, so she would often bring her kids to work and nurse them sometimes in between courses.
“I had the children and the kitchen at the same time. I remember I was breastfeeding my daughter and guests were coming in. I was like ‘what should I do? She was crying, I was crying and guests were upset.”
Her hard work paid off and tasting menus featuring locally grown produce for dishes like hops ravioli with goat, black beans and anchovies got her noticed. She appeared on the Netflix docuseries “Chef’s Table.” Still, she is used to being the only woman, or one of a few, at food festivals. Earlier this month, Ros was the only female chef cooking at an event at the St. Moritz Gourmet Festival at the Kulm Hotel in Switzerland.
“It’s a very hard instury for women. Often girls between 27 and 30 need to decide whether they want to be mothers or if they want to be chefs. Men never have to make these compromises. They never have to decide. A lot of girls step back or leave kitchens,” she says.
Ros’ kitchen is made up primarily of females, so she is a big supporter of instilling a proper work-life balance. In Slovenia, maternity leave for women begins 28 days prior to the expected due date, and after that, mothers get 105 days of paid leave at 100% of the average wage they made. After that, parents can take an additional 130 days off.
Chef Claudia Canessa of Sunny Bar at the Kulm Hotel in St. Moritz, Switzerland
Peruvian chef Claudia Canessa celebrates freedom of expression with a colorful sleeve of tattoos, electric blue hair and dishes that pack a punch like a savory sea bass ceviche with chili.
The female chef runs the show at the Sunny Bar at the storied Kulm Hotel in St. Moritz, a dream job, she says. She made a name for herself by outworking everyone around her, saying no when people tried to get her to do pastry “because she was a girl,” and not conforming to other people’s standards.
“In the beginning, guys would say ‘how can she do it [cook], she’s so skinny?’ But for me, it wasn’t a problem. As soon as I started working people said, ‘Okay, she knows what she’s doing.’”
When it comes to giving advice to other woman in culinary trying to carve out a career for themselves, Canessa says confidence and a thick skin is imperative if you want to make it in the industry.
“You have to be proud of yourself, and what you do. You have to respect yourself, and demand respect in the kitchen,” Canessa says.
And while other chefs are furiously focusing on awards, Canessa only cares about making good food, and doing it well.
“I don’t need stars,” she says. “I know that my food is good.”
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