Monday, September 17, 2007

Get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich...but don't make it too good.

In honor of Jessica's upcoming book about the greatest hits of sexist double-standards, I wanted to bring up this doozy of an article comparing female and male chefs that I found on Slashfood. The short story: don't pay attention to the fussy ladies and eat real man food.

Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith have come under fire for writing cookery instructions that are too difficult to follow.

Female celebrity chefs, it seems, are harder to understand in print than their male counterparts, peppering their books with complex language.

It found that 5.2million adults in the UK would be unable to follow Nigella's cooking methods as she uses longer sentences and tends to write in a "chatty" style, mixing in personal observations with her instructions.

Delia Smith's culinary teaching was also criticised for having too many stages and using measurements confusing for anyone with poor numeracy skills.

She also sprinkles too many adjectives into her recipes
This pronouncement from a survey of the cookbooks from five different chefs - three male and two female. The dynamics around power and gender in the kitchen are widely-understood enough to be featured in a Disney movie, and work out to be one of the stupider double-standards I've seen. Cooking is a woman's job, and a woman's place is in the kitchen, nurturing and feeding her family - but if you want to actually be paid to practice your craft, and encouraged in expressing yourself creatively with food, you'd damn well better be a man. But if you're a real man, you don't want fancy schmancy food you get in a fancy schmancy restaurant - you want cholesterol-laden, factory-produced bean lard mulch.

I haven't read any of these books (I've flipped through Lawson's books in stores, but that's as far as I've gotten), but given the by-the-book stereotyping this article engages in, I don't know that the reviewer would have to either. The women are "chatty" and embellish too much, while the men are direct and more efficient in their communication. Of course, they could have said that Lawson's more casual style is easier to approach for non-chefs or people bored by plain recipes, but since being "chatty" is associated with female, it has to be a drawback. It makes me think of how Rachael Ray on her 30 Minute Meals show always refers self-deprecatingly to herself as a "Chatty Cathy," and excuses herself for talking so much - even though she's the only one on-camera for a half hour. Are we expected to watch her cook in silence for a half hour? Given Ray's phenomenal media success, she's not doing herself any harm in talking through hours of television every day. But by playing up the feminine stereotypes expected of her, she can get people to watch her without feeling threatened, and then get flack for it, just like Lawson.

As it turns out, some of my favorite cookbooks are more casually written, and though it's sometimes the lack of specifics that makes people's recipes go bad, I've found that people shy away from cooking for lots of reasons - not just that they would rather learn to cook from a Real Man.
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