By Nancy Pollard
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources, and food-related issues.
MANY YEARS AGO, in the 1920s, a woman in Lyon, France created not one but two stellar restaurants and celebrated the winning of three Michelin stars, not once but twice. You see Eugénie Brazier pictured below with her team, arms around one another in a familial way. She was respected and lauded but suffered no shortage of difficulties. Her trials included a childhood in rural poverty, losing her mother at age 10, having a child out of wedlock at 19, and surviving two world wars. Additionally, one of her “commis” cooks at La Mère Brazier was Paul Bocuse, who admitted how much he learned from her, although in an interview in the 1970s he said that he would rather have a woman in his bed than behind the stove in his restaurant. Brazier’s achievement of being the first chef to earn six Michelin stars was mistakenly bestowed by the press upon Alain Ducasse in 1998 (and then sheepishly rescinded). Eugénie Brazier’s restaurant today has been purchased by a noted Meilleur Ouvrier de France, and retrofitted to be like La Mère Brazier of old, except the new chef-owner’s team of chefs are all men.
Then in 2018 came a film from Maya Gallus, which discusses cuisine’s unfortunate sexist sentiment and heritage in a documentary profiling seven current women chefs. While there is no real thematic conclusion, I think you will find this film a rewarding watch. Paradoxically, it should be noted that Sophie Pic (one of the featured chefs) is the first woman chef to receive three Michelin stars—more than a half century after Eugénie Brazier’s remarkable feat. And actually one of the most subtle and charming moments in the film is a glimpse of a tasting that Sophie Pic has with her crew of cooks. There is serious note-taking, reflections, and discussion, but in the end, she wants her team to understand what her perceptions are and not theirs. And it is her preceptions that drove the three Michelin stars to Restaurant Anne-Sophie Pic.
The Heat—A Kitchen (R)evolution provides us with a small overview of the workdays and nights of these chefs, their backgrounds, and how they rise above or simply survive The Boys Club. Take a look at the 2022 list of The World’s Fifty Best Restaurants and you will gain an even greater insight. Top chefs who happen to be women are sidelined or given a “Female Chef” award. To quote Clare Smyth, the winner in femaleness of chefdom, “For the last 10 years of my career I’ve been asked, ‘What is it like to be a female chef?’ to which I reply, ‘I’m not sure what you mean, because I’ve never been a male chef,’ ” And in the end, it is films like this documentary that remind us as diners how much we take for granted.