I have a couple of points of contention that I need to air. Better late than never.
This year’s Great British Menu was celebrating the WI (Women’s Institute) and yet only 4 of the 24 chefs competing where women. Seems a weird way to celebrate women’s contribution to the British heritage and indeed it’s culinary history; unless of course the attitude is women cook, and men are chefs (aka the professionals)’ which is exactly the message this gives.
This undermines the work that women are doing in the industry; it undermines the industry as a whole. There are more than 4 women in the UK at that standard. The National Restaurant awards named Barafina as no.1 restaurant this year, a restaurant run by a woman. If the producers had asked more women and they had turned them down, then they need to re-think the structure of the show. Great British Menu no longer shows off the industry as a whole and feels disingenuous.
There is some amazing food this year, and we're only in the heats/regions; there are some wonderful chefs (faves are Michael O'Hare, Matt Gillian, Jak O'Donnell and Lee Westcott). So BBC –do us all a favour, make this programme as good as it can be, don’t rest on your laurels.
In summer an article was written in the Independent about seven chefs that were changing the culinary world (of London). Seven white men. This is not a new story. This story could have been written three years ago, five, eight, ten years ago. The same story, just different names, less Noma-name-dropping.
Each of the guys mentioned are wonderful, clever chefs, doing AMAZING food, and yes they are changing the way food is being cooked and thought of. But, every generation has a group that does change the landscape, which is how an industry grows (all industries), so pointing out a group of white dudes who are doing that, is not a new story. In fact, the article points out that these restaurants lean heavily on the French 'bistronomie' style of dining from the noughties.
All the chefs came across really, really well. In fact, what would have been more interesting was a proper profile on one of them, no, on each one of them – show them as people, individuals, tell their story – lets really hear the different stories of how cooking can develop, let us as readers get to know what it means to be a chef; let us be inspired by the job and share that with others.
But to lump them all together and say ‘this is the future’ makes London seem like the most boring, predictable place in the world (even if what they are doing is actually exciting). And I don’t think London is boring, by a long shot. It also shows the idea that to be a chef, you need to be and look a certain way; automatically putting off people who don’t (aka, 50% of the population). I wouldn’t have read that article if I hadn’t known people in it – I wonder how many people didn’t because it appeared (on the surface) to not say anything new, it showed a group of people that didn’t relate to them?
White dudes are at the top of XYZ industry – yes, we all know that, tell us something different.
There are more diverse things happening and changing the landscape of London and food. If that was the point of the article, to show how the restaurant world is changing and moving, lets really show off what the UK has to offer, instead of resting on tired old tropes.
If everyone else in the industry is dreaming big, growing in exciting and new ways, purveyors of popular media, you need to get on board; dream big too – we all believe you can.
To end on a positive:
This summer Corbin & King launched an initiative to encourage female chefs back into the kitchen post career breaks after having/bringing up children. This is ace, it’s opening up a conversation, and it’s thinking about a problem and being open minded about how they can solve the problem.
There is a shortage of chefs – it’s been all over the media (social and mainstream), and so this is a creative, positive and exciting way to think through a problem. I think it’s a win-win. I’m excited to see how it goes.