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Why Is the Restaurant Industry Such a Boys’ Club?

There’s a reason the restaurant business plays host to so many big egos: Everybody loves fancy food, and reality TV has only encouraged the industry to grow flashier while elevating its baddest (or lamest) dudes to larger-than-life status. One question, though: Where are all the women?

Beyond April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig and Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune, we can’t think of too many prominent female chefs (sorry, but Sandra Lee, Paula Deen and Rachael Ray do not count). Sure, we know that our knowledge is pretty much limited to New York, and there are quite a few very talented women running kitchens around the country right now—check out The Daily Feast’s great list of 15 “badass” female chefs—but guys’ guys like Gordon Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali still hog the lion’s share of the spotlight.

In a telling interview with the Village Voice’s Fork in the Road food blog, current James Beard Foundation president Susan Ungaro talks about why the industry feels like such a boys’ club—and what it will take to encourage young female chefs to take the reins and step into the spotlight. Here’s the money quote:

“I think all women in the food world, just like women in the business world or the banking world or the legal world – they’ve all had the same struggle that they’re out there proving ourselves. Despite the great leaps we’re taking, the numbers still show we’re not running the country (yet). And that’s definitely true of the restaurant and food world.”

Ungaro took action on the issue, collaborating with Rohini Dey of Vermillion to create a scholarship for young women studying the culinary arts.

Interested? On September 18th, Ungaro and the James Beard Foundation will host a “Women in Culinary Leadership” dinner and round-table discussion at New York’s Vermillion–only $135 for a full five-course dinner with wine pairings!

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