You have to be a pretty tough cookie to be a successful female chef. That is the message of Maya Gallus’ documentary. She portrays seven women chefs who have made it or are striving to make it in a man’s rock star world (think Anthony Bourdain).
At first the film is just a mad jumble of faces and bustling kitchens; it is quite a challenge to sort out just who is who, with lots of alternating interviews with female chefs intermittently yelling out orders to their kitchen crews busily preparing distractingly delicious dishes. After seventy-two minutes fortunately seven distinct portraits begin to emerge. Below are thumbnail sketches of the seven chefs and a few of their memorable quotes in the film.
Angela Hartnett is a one-star-Michelin chef and exuberant British TV personality who oversees four restaurants in London. Angela is the no-nonsense, warm-hearted granddaughter of an Italian immigrant grandmother who loved to cook. It is she who survived working as a protégé of Hell’s Kitchen hothead Gordon Ramsay who later became her business partner till she bought him out. When she started working for Ramsay the staff placed bets saying she would last two days, then two weeks, two months, because no woman had stayed for a full year. She showed them all! Now that she is chef of her own kitchen the atmosphere is the polar opposite of Ramsay’s. She encourages camaraderie and banter. “Not that everyone’s a saint, you know. We all take the mickey out of each other and we all have a laugh about things.”
Celebrity chef Anita Lo is filmed saying goodbye to her iconic New York City restaurant Annisa which ended its phenomenal run after 17 years in 2017. She says that she had a struggle being recognized explaining that being a chef is really part of the Old Boys’ Club. It’s not if you are white or straight, and gender has nothing to do with being a great chef. She says, “There’s a saying that men cook for glory and women cook for love……..But as a chef you really want to be judged on your work.”
Amanda Cohen is the very successful chef-owner of Dirt Candy, a vegetarian restaurant located in New York City's East Village that is recommended in the Michelin Guide. Her complaint is that the media likes the tough dudes, those with lots of tattoos, even tattoos covering giant scars! She talks about the most famous woman chef in history Eugénie Brazier who was one of the Grand Mères of Lyon, France in the 1930s and her sad fate. “She ended up with, likes, six Michelin stars, (was) hugely celebrated, and then time goes on, time goes on, da-da-da.” She was written out of history.
Tough talker Victoria Blamey originally from Chile, is the chef at the famous restaurant Chumley's in New York City. She is a hard task master who doesn’t take any guff, and her kitchen runs with military precision. She has clearly worked her way up to become a top NYC chef. She says that women have been cooks forever. They are the ones who originally cooked for the chef. “Usually it’s like oh my mom used to cook this for me.” That’s ironic. Why can’t women then make it professionally as chefs?
Suzanne Barr is struggling to make a go of it, and is seen having to close down her Toronto restaurant Saturday Dinette and downsizing to a smaller one. She explains that her father said no daughter of his was going to cook for some white person in their kitchen. She is determined to have her own restaurant and be her own boss. In her kitchen she wants a change. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could create a space (where women) could come and gain some skillsets….in a very male dominated industry?”
Toronto based Ivy Knight is a former line cook who gave up cooking to become a distinguished food writer and sought after cultural programmer tells about being viciously attacked by her sous chef after she refused, after a long and grueling day, to take apart the stove at midnight. She explains that the next day she went to her boss and told her what had happened. “And I started crying, and she said ‘suck it up’…..you should have done what he told you.” She wisely changed the trajectory of her career.
Another Canadian Charlotte Langley admits that she reversed the rolls and fell into patterns of abusive behavior towards her harem of male staff when she took charge of a kitchen. “When I had my first chef position, I was like I’m gonna hire only 18-year-old boys. They’re gonna do all the heavy lifting.” She soon realized she had become part of the problem. Changing her ways she is now a freelance cook in Toronto operating a series of highly popular "pop-up” restaurants that are really like hosting an exclusive dinner party. She explains that some describe them as underground or top secret which makes them have a bit more panache. Whatever they are, they have made Charlotte Langley the talk of the town.
The most prominent chef is French chef Anne-Sophie Pic, a portrait of serenity creating mouthwatering masterpieces with surgical precision in her pristine kitchen. In truth she is at the top of the food chain with three Michelin stars for her restaurant, Maison Pic, with a total of seven stars in her lifetime. When she took over for her father to face “the brigade” she found those who had worked for her father were not kind to her. She was not the recognized heiress and was rejected as a woman. “No, as a woman in my own kitchen, at the beginning, I was not respected. … It became intolerable and I had to prove myself. I had to overcome it."
Maya Gallus unabashedly portrays the lives of seven women who have played starring roles in the restaurant revolution: the fight for inclusion as chefs in the macho restaurant world. The documentary ends spotlighting soft spoken Anne-Sophie Pic saying in a disarming French accent, “A restaurant is a way to show to people that we love them.”
Would Gordon Ramsay agree?