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Women In The Kitchen: The Surprising Reality

Over the past several months, I’ve begun to watch competitive cooking shows obsessively. I mean, I don’t really know how to turn on my own oven and have never cooked anything in my life, but watching food shows has given me a desire to learn how to cook something simple...someday in the far future. But while these competitive food shows are certainly good for cooking tips, I couldn't help but notice that women are largely underrepresented.

One of my favorite shows is Chopped, where four professional chefs are given a very short amount of time to make a dish composed of three or four random ingredients. There is usually only one female competitor on each episode. Every once in a while, you’ll see two women, but it’s unusual. There was only one episode I can remember where all four competitors were female, and the rarity of such an occurrence was pointed out by one of the judges.

Iron Chef, which is probably one of the biggest competitive cooking shows out there, has noticeably few women. In the show, a chef challenges one of the Iron Chefs to a cook-off. There were no female Iron Chefs on the original Japanese version. I don’t watch the show that often, but I’ve never seen an episode with a female competitor. I don’t think my perception of the show as a boys’ club is too far off, since Wikipedia’s section on notable challengers lists twenty men’s names.

To the Food Network's credit, teams of judges on these shows tend to be closer to equal in terms of gender representation (although not quite). Of the 18 professional chefs and restaurateurs that have served as judges on Chopped, seven are female, and two out of five judges that have served on every season are female. There’s almost always at least one or two women on the judging panels of Iron Chef, Iron Chef America, and Next Iron Chef. On every season of The Next Food Network Star, two out of four judges were female.

Also, interestingly enough, the pastry and dessert shows feature more women than men. Cupcake Wars, where competitors have to bake themed cupcakes for an event, is Chopped’s opposite: usually there are three female competitors and one male, and every once in a while there are two men. Sweet Genius, pastry chef Ron Ben-Israel’s way to find up-and-coming dessert artists, usually features two women and two men. Challenge, an extreme cake competition, also averages out at two men and two women. Perhaps this is because desserts are seen as less intense or less difficult to prepare than "serious" gourmet cooking, and therefore women are allowed to participate in equal numbers (even though that's bullshit).

If these shows are supposed to represent reality, it surprises me that there aren’t more women in the professional cooking field. The Food Network seriously needs to work on equal representation of men and women chefs in their shows.



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