Celebrity chef says women's 'body clocks' have kept them from being successful chefs

Heston Blumenthal is facing backlash over a recent interview in which he discussed the gender disparity in restaurant kitchens.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Erica Chayes Wida

Celebrity chef and award-winning restaurateur Heston Blumenthal recently shared his thoughts on the many issues women face in professional kitchens — but plenty of women (and men) around the globe were not fond of his opinions.

Many people working in the restaurant industry are acutely aware of the lack of gender diversity in the field. Although cooking shows and food-related media shine the spotlight on select female chefs, women continue to be overshadowed by their male counterparts when it comes to many restaurant jobs. Women make up approximately half of culinary school graduates, yet they hold less than 7% of executive chef positions at leading culinary organizations.

Last week, Blumenthal, who runs a restaurant with three Michelin stars, was asked by The Economic Times of India to speak about women in the culinary industry.

British Chef Heston Blumenthal has come under fire for his comments regarding female executive chefs in the culinary industry.Bloomberg / Bloomberg via Getty Images

According to the publication, Blumenthal admitted that he didn't have a straightforward answer about why the gender disparity persists, but he made a few guesses.

"I think it depends on a lot of factors, including the culture in the country," Blumenthal said. "I have always employed female chefs, but historically and ultimately, the body clock starts working. It's evolution, and it is one thing to have a 9-5 job and quite another to be a chef with kids. So, that makes it difficult."

While Blumenthal said being "a chef with kids" is what makes it difficult for women, many people have pointed out that plenty of male chefs also have children. Some tweeters called Blumenthal's implication that male chefs with offspring can thrive but women with children cannot an example of "everyday sexism."

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Blumenthal, a father of three, is not only a successful restaurant owner but he also appears on numerous cooking shows, including "MasterChef Australia." Restaurateur and "Hell's Kitchen" host Gordon Ramsay just celebrated the birth of his fifth child. "Cake Boss" star Buddy Valastro has four, Guy Fieri and Curtis Stone each have two sons.

Blumenthal then said that the heavy lifting of kitchen tools may pose a challenge for women — but he did not specify whether he meant during pregnancy (when some doctors advise women not to carry more than 25 to 30 pounds), or just in general.

"[The physical strain of lifting] Heavy pots and pans," he said.

TODAY Food reached out to a spokesperson from Blumenthal's team who said the chef has "decided not to comment further at this stage."

Plenty of women have weighed in about his comments on social media.

Food Network star, executive chef and mother Alex Guarnaschelli also reacted to Blumenthal's interview.

Many mothers argued that, if anything, they became stronger after their biological clocks kicked in and went through the intense experience of childbirth.

Following his comments about women in the workplace, Blumenthal said, "But I think it is much better now that it was 15 years ago. This I can speak for."

But is "better" enough?

According to Eater's editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt, it's not. In 2017, Kludt wrote an article which tracked women's progress or, as she put it, "lack thereof," in the culinary industry. Kludt included a series of pie charts representing the number of women selected for the country's most famous food events and awards in 2017. She then compared them to charts from 2013 — the same year Time magazine published its "Gods of Food" issue that did not feature any female executive chefs or restaurateurs.

In Kludt's opinion, the improvements were underwhelming.

"When women only hold 21% of head chef roles across the country, chauvinist (and dangerous) behavior can go unchecked," Kludt noted. Her article was published nearlya year after sexual misconduct allegations arose about one of the industry's most powerful chefs, Mario Batali.

In his interview with the Times, Blumenthal also addressed many of the issues Kludt discussed, including sexism in the workplace, the difficulties of a standard restaurant base salary, parental leave, health care access and how hard women work in the kitchen.

"Earlier, to be a successful female chef in a male-dominated environment, you had to be tough as old boots," he said. "You had to fight harder. I know a few female chefs who have done very well."

A few, however, is not a lot.