All of those stereotypes may have some truth. But the full reality of how women have found success in the restaurant industry is much more nuanced.
The Midpeninsula's dining scene is home to many of these women: pastry chefs, sous chefs, managers and business owners who are often less publicly celebrated than their male counterparts — to the point that one local female restaurateur was surprised to hear that there were as many as 10 women being interviewed for this story, which is by no means exhaustive.
The suburbs of the Midpeninsula have long nurtured female restaurant careers, from farm-to-table pioneer Jesse Cool of Menlo Park's Flea St. Cafe in the 1970s to Avery Ruzicka, a 32-year-old baker who worked her way up from food runner to head of the bread program at the renowned Manresa in Los Gatos.
There's also the Texas native who graduated from high school two years early to attend pastry school and is now overseeing pastry and desserts at nine successful restaurants. There's the 17-year-old culinary school student who deftly navigated the pressures of a Michelin-starred kitchen in her first-ever restaurant job.
And while there are more women in leadership roles in local restaurants than meets the eye, they are still working in a male-dominated industry currently in the spotlight for its historically poor treatment of women. But as working mothers, driven young women and female leaders, they challenge the gender norms that have allowed sexual harassment and other misconduct to fester for years.
To provide a more complete narrative of the local dining industry, here are the stories of some of the female figures behind the restaurants that so many of us enjoy. More women are featured in the expanded version of the story, which is online at mv-voice.com.
Serena Chow, a 29-year-old pastry chef at Bird Dog in Palo Alto, is glad to see the media spotlight finally shining on problematic kitchen culture and the impact it's long had on women.
But she agrees with New York chef Amanda Cohen, who in November wrote a piece titled "I've Worked in Food for 20 Years. Now You Finally Care About Female Chefs?," condemning what she describes as "Boys Only" media coverage that pays attention to female chefs as women first, then professionals.
The current #MeToo movement is an extension of that, Cohen wrote: "Women may not have value as chefs, but as victims we're finally interesting!"
Chow has experienced the feeling of being judged for her physical appearance as she's walked into a kitchen. She's endured inappropriate comments from male coworkers. She's worked on her fair share of almost all-male staffs where she felt like she had to be able to "take a joke" and suppress emotions to advance.
But she also got her start at a female-run dessert and wine bar, worked under a female head pastry chef at the Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park in New York City and is now at a restaurant where ownership is shared equally by a husband-and-wife team.
"Overall, it is a great time to be a female in a kitchen, but also I think last year, and the year before, and the year before that were great times to be in the kitchen as well," Chow said.
Chow, who is from San Mateo, studied advertising and communications at New York University. A fateful summer studying abroad in Florence, where she experienced the Italians' distinct appreciation for food, diverted her career. She graduated from NYU and went straight to pastry school at the French Culinary Institute, then worked for several years before hosting pop-up dinners and opening a restaurant with her boyfriend, also a chef. They now work together at Bird Dog, she as pastry chef and he as a chef de cuisine.
Chow is obsessed with eggs, ice cream and details. Her desserts are textured, sophisticated and comforting, like her version of rocky road, made with Valrhona Jivara chocolate mousse, smoked marcona almonds and espresso. She records her recipes neatly, by hand, in alphabetical order in a repurposed leather-bound address book. It sat next to her on a recent afternoon in Bird Dog's open kitchen as she pitted and soaked dates for a cake.
The staff at Bird Dog is almost 50-50 men and women and the kitchen culture is collaborative rather than exclusionary or competitive, Chow said. For her, this comes from co-owners Robbie Wilson, the chef, and Emily Perry Wilson, who runs the business side of the restaurant.
"On top of being considerate, it really doesn't matter your gender. It doesn't matter your background; it doesn't matter even who you vote for," she said. "I think because Emily and Robbie are very 50-50, it trickles down throughout the company."
At 17 years old, Daisy Jasmer has already checked off a major goal on almost every chef's dream list: cook in a Michelin-starred kitchen.
Jasmer spent the first three months of the year at the fine-dining French restaurant Chez TJ in Mountain View, picking herbs, peeling eggs and plating during dinners. She chose Chez TJ to meet a culinary school requirement to extern for 200 hours at a local restaurant while studying at the International Culinary Center in Campbell.
On a recent evening, Jasmer, wearing her chef's whites, moved easily through the tiny, chaotic kitchen, surrounded by the male kitchen staff. Amidst a beehive of action — people prepping ingredients, frying dishes, servers coming in and out to grab plates — she seemed to pick up on non-verbal cues to anticipate where she was needed most. When plates of bright-red yellowfin tuna with venison were almost ready to leave the kitchen, she used tweezers to carefully top them with the pi
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