Skirt Steak, my friend Charlotte Druckman’s survey of the state of women in food, is out at the end of the month. Though its express purpose is to see how women chefs, via 73 lady intervivewees, are “standing the heat and staying in the kitchen,” it is not nearly that gendered a message. Those seeking to understand food in 2012 must read it. Chapter one is just a spectacular look at how today’s chefs are defining themselves, and how much those definitions vary chef to chef, region to region, experience to experience.
There are times when Charlotte lets her panel assign too much blame on men and doesn’t force them to take responsibility or consider environmental circumstances beyond sex. I think, for example, women tend to have more trouble with the media not because of a media bias (Chapter 8, “Media Rare”), but because for whatever reason the guys tend to be more proactive, especially in pounding us over the head with their messaging. Or, Amanda Cohen wants to think she lost Iron Chef because of a bias on the panel. That is an absurd delegation of responsibility for several reasons, including the fact that two of the three people on her judging panel were women.
If that is nit-picking, and it is, it shouldn’t distract from the many crucial observations made about the food biz and the sharp insight the women of this book have about what they do. There’s a discussion of media engagement and an acute understanding of both the good and evil of indie, largely digital, media; how the small guy (or gal) has actually, quietly won; why the most thrilling food is not coming out of French style kitchens, but from more democratic organizations; how there’s more empire-building happening than we know; and, just, the West Coast is eating the East Coast for breakfast.