Boston chef Tiffani Faison describes the ‘double standard’ for women in the restaurant industry in first-person piece

“If we want to stamp out sexism in kitchen culture, we have to stop conflating women’s capability with their likability,” the Sweet Cheeks Q chef and owner wrote for Eater.

Tiffani Faison, chef and co-owner of Tiger Mama, in the dining area of the soon-to-open Fenway restaurant. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Lifestyle, baskink)
Tiffani Faison. –Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Boston chef and restaurateur Tiffani Faison is calling-out the “double standard” for women in the restaurant industry to “remain likeable” in order to achieve longevity and success in their careers, a measure she says is not applied to men working in the field.

“The time has come to address this head on,” she wrote. 

The chef and owner of Fenway’s Sweet Cheeks Q and the chef co-owner of Southeast-Asian-inspired Tiger Mama penned a first-person piece published by Eater titled, “I’m a Woman and a Chef. I Shouldn’t Have to Care If You Like Me.”

In it, Faison says the time has arrived for the industry to change, following the #MeToo movement and the stepping-down of celebrity chefs Mario Batali and John Besh in response to reports detailing multiple allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against the prominent restaurateurs.

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“Maybe, I thought, we wouldn’t have to be so damn quiet and pleasant anymore,” she wrote:

Bad behavior has been the accepted consequence of this career — for men. We allow male chefs their brutish, snarky, and downright abusive conduct; we find it entertaining and we reward it with television shows and big-city restaurant deals. (Not to mention that male chefs’ appearance also goes largely unscrutinized.) But is there a female counterpart, a woman who’s invited to yell or have a devil-may-care persona and still find blinding success by personifying those qualities? Not yet.

Faison referenced her own experiences in the industry and her time competing on the cooking show “Top Chef,” which she cited as a “almost too-perfect example” of the double standard for women in the industry:

As I look back on that period of my life, it feels like producers never had the intention of risking the success of a new franchise like Top Chef on a feisty, competitive woman winning the first season. The safer bet was a “good guy,” handsome and innocuous. In the years since being painted as Top Chef’s first villain, I’ve had to work overtime both professionally and personally to prove that I am not, in fact, the devil. If I had a dollar for every time I have been cordial to complete strangers approaching me and laughing while saying, “I’m not your bitch, bitch,” I would be flush.

Faison said if a woman makes it through “the meat grinder of their early careers” and has the opportunity to run her own kitchen or restaurant, she faces a “catch-22” where she risks being seen as a “disrupter”:

Act 2 is the perpetuation of the cycle. At this stage, a female chef’s charge, still, is to find a nonthreatening way to assimilate with their peers, the media, and the public thirst for all things chef. She must be recognized, be a part of the mostly male community of chefs, and walk the tightrope of maintaining personal integrity without ostracizing herself from male acceptance.

The chef said the time has come for women in the industry to “be honest” and change their own assumptions and behavior in order to break through, and change, the industry’s “misogynistic culture.”

Not every woman has endured the harassment detailed in the exposes of Batali and Besh, she said, but most have experienced the “concrete floor” and “glass ceiling” within the industry.

Faison pointed out that while women may comprise more than half of culinary school students, they make up only 21 percent of head chefs in the U.S. and just 33 percent of restaurant businesses are majority-owned by women:

Even in this moment of #MeToo, it’s still hard to risk being disliked. (I even hesitated before agreeing to write about this topic.) It is vitally important, nonetheless. We may be doing the work of maintaining our likability for a chance to sit at the big table with the very same people who, consciously or not, seek to exclude us. And before the cries of “not all men” start: No, not all men. But it’s time for the good guys to get loud, too, to step in and create, through their actions and words, support for the community many of them profess to love — for all of us.

Read the Boston chef’s full essay over at Eater.