08/19/2014 04:23 pm ET Updated Oct 19, 2014

Girl Town Cooking


One of the greatest puzzles to me is how women came to be banished from the kitchen, the professional kitchen, that is. Oh, we are quite welcome slopping out spaghetti at home. If all those men grew up on mom's home cooking, why couldn't mom cook at the restaurant where they eat?!

When I first got into catering in the '80s, I could count the women chefs I met on one hand.

Misogynist chefs, egomaniacs, sex-aholics, drunks and all four rolled into one, greeted me when I applied for a cooking jobs. I think the only things that got me in the door were their fear of class-action law suits and the fact that I had a filthy mouth. The latter carried big brownie points.

I had to work three times as hard as the guys in all my early cooking jobs just to prove that I was half as good. It was torture, in the form of endless onion chopping, but I plowed through.

And then one day, I woke up, looked around and realized it was better. I had my own catering company and knew other women who had their own catering companies, restaurants or were chefs in all sorts of food businesses, not to mention getting uber famous on the Food Network.

I can't count the women chefs I know on one hand anymore, or even on one hand from each of my friends, and that's fantastic. Delicious, actually.

It doesn't mean there is no more sexism in the good old boy club of pro cooking, but it's kind of like racist: They may be thinking it, but they're too smart to say it out loud. Especially around women with sharp knives.

When I first opened my catering biz, guests used to come into the kitchen looking for Chef Rossi. They would walk up to my sous chef and say, "Thank you, the food was wonderful!" My sous chef would say, "I'm not Chef Rossi."

They would work their way through all the men working in the kitchen, including the dishwasher, until finally, they were left with only me, standing in the corner laughing in the pink bandana and black chef jacket and say, almost stammering, "Um, Chef Rossi?"

This game used to amuse my kitchen staff to no end, and it got only better when I found great women chefs to hire. Then they would pass over all the girls and go right to the boys. Astounding.

People ask me all the time, "Do women cook differently than men?" and my answer is, yes and no.

Sensitive, deep, caring people cook differently than hard, driven, cold people. In my life, the sensitive folks have more often been female, and the harder folks more often male, but to every rule there are ample exceptions.

I have had two male chefs work for me who were profoundly sensitive and produced food that was multi-layered, rich, and simple, yet complex.

My chef Adam could make a red wine sauce that would make you cry. It was like a poem.

I've also had women chefs work for me who could crank out really decent food but treated that food like a highway to drive through at full speed. They were great when it came to feeding hundreds of hungry eaters in a short time, but never the ones I entrusted to make sauces or marinades.

So, hmm, do I think women cook differently than men? I think sensitive chefs cook better-tasting food, but that may be because I'm a sensitive eater.

That's a whole other topic, sensitive eaters versus shove-it-into-my-face types. Watching my dad eat, you'd wonder why he had teeth -- inhale city. But let's save that story for another day.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.