Kitchen doors closed to women, by Otile McManus, by March 7, 1974

“When Paul Bocuse, the almost legendary French chef, visited Boston recently, he and Madeleine Kamman chopped shallots together.

Monsieur Bocuse’s restaurant in Lyons is one of the handful in France which bears a three-star Michelin Guide rating. Ms. Kamman’s Newton school, the Modern Gourmet, is one of the handful in the area which offers a practical course to train chefs in classic culinary methods.

‘There is always such a hullabaloo with Bocuse,’ said Ms. Kamman, a French expatriot and cookbook author. ‘But I was not charmed. Besides I chop the shallots faster. Perhaps because he does not cook as often.’

All this was by way of dramatizing Ms. Kamman’s contention that she, or any woman, might be passed over by the Michelin Guide people on the basis of sex.

‘Listen, there is a brochure published in France which lists the professional chefs in the country. There are 127 men listed and one woman. Over 100 men and just one woman. It’s unbelievable.’

While Ms. Kamman suggests that the situation may be worse in France, she believes that American women who choose to make the restaurant business a career ā€” as chef, maitre d’, captain, sommelier or waitress ā€” face a series of stumbling blocks.

Especially if the restaurant is what the trade people call a ‘white tablecloth’ restaurant, according to Susan Deavers, a field editor for the Nation’s Restaurant News, a New York based publication.

A survey of some of Boston’s more established ‘white tablecloth’ restaurants, places like the Ritz, Maison Robert, Maitre Jacques, the Cafe Budapest and Locke-Ober‘s shows that women are minimally represented in the kitchen, usually in the capacity of pantry girl, salad girl, general go-fer or dishwasher. With one possible exception, they never serve customers as waitress, captain or maitre d’ on the floor.

Last fall, Clifton Zwirner, food and beverage manager of the Ritz, who could not be reached for comment this week, said he wouldn’t hire a woman to wait on tables because women weren’t strong enough to carry the hotel’s heavy serving pieces. At Lucien Robert’s restaurant complex at Old City Hall, waitresses serve lunch in the downstairs cafe known as Bonhomme Richard, a tuxedo-ed male staff serves the patrons of the more elegant Maison Robert upstairs and Robert’s niece, Wendy Jerome, a student of Madeleine Kamman’s, is serving an apprenticeship in the kitchen.

At the Cafe Budapest, which is owned and lovingly tended to by a woman, Edith Ban, there are two women in the kitchen, a pastry chef and an assistant chef. There are no women on the floor with the exception of Mrs. Ban herself, who was recently observed seeing that a junior high school social studies class was treated as if they were her best customers.

At Locke-Ober‘s, there is one pantry girl among 23 men in the kitchen, an occasional female dishwasher and no women on the floor.

Dean Lynch, the young food and beverage manager at the Winter street restaurant, explained: ‘The critical issue, the paramount issue, is that women are not qualified. Women don’t know French service, they don’t know food service, they don’t know wine.’

He allowed as how he would hire a woman if she could ‘bone a Dover sole’ at the table but added that his inclination would be to hire men.

‘Waiters bring home the bread and butter. Men make the bread and butter. It’s their livelihood and they take the job more seriously.’

Lynch said he’d hire someone with a resume listing restaurants like the Ritz, Maison Robert and Stonehenge, a Connecticut restaurant whose reputation is national. What he didn’t say was how a woman gets restaurants like that on a resume if nobody will hire her.

Women have been the mainstay of the less posh restaurants for years as cooks and waitresses. According to Kay Fulton of the National Restaurant Assn. in Chicago, three out of every five cooks are women. For the most part, these women achieve neither the acclaim nor the pay scales of their male counterparts.

Susan Deavers suggests that when women open their own ‘white tablecloth’ restaurants, they will move into the kitchen and onto the floor with all deliberate speed.

Ms. Kamman agreed: ‘If a woman doesn’t own the restaurant, she really has no choices whatsoever.’

While Boston has no restaurant with the feminist political implications of New York’s Mother Courage, it does have its share of women restaurant owners. There are women who have been in the business for years like Mrs. Ban, Joyce Chen and Felicia Solimine of Felicia’s. There are also newcomers like Sally Scoville of Le Bocage, Joyce Scardina and Odette Bery of the Turtle Cafe.

Felicia takes care of the cooking at her North End restaurant with the help of her sons, while waiters man tables out front.

Joyce Chen, who employs men and women as waitresses, said she believes women are capable of running restaurants better than men because of their attention to small detail. But she refuses to hire them to work in her kitchen: ‘They talk too much. They are not strong enough.’

Ms. Scardina, who cooked at the Orson Wells before buying the Cambridge street luncheonette which houses the Turtle Cafe, said that owning a restaurant makes a difference for a woman, but a difference with a difference.

‘People still tend to take you less seriously if you’re a woman. They can’t believe it. Well, maybe they believe it but they’re not willing to give you as much credit,’ she explained.

One of her chefs, Suzy Dammin, is hopeful that attitudes are changing: ‘Women are going to become known as chefs. It’s bound to happen.’

Patricia Butler, who works as the chef at Cafe L’Orange in Concord, agreed: ‘I have this feeling that all of a sudden it’s going to open up. It has to. Cooking has been a viable career for men. It’s been a way of life for women.’

Joseph Ammendola, Dean of Students at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., said that the number of women applicants to the American version of Cordon Bleu has skyrocketed in the last five years.

‘We had a dozen applicants, then 25, then 50. Now we have 125 women out of 1300 students. Because we want to equalize things, we’re eager to accept more women. Jobs are opening up. Right now we have about five jobs for every graduate.’

The resistance to women will weaken gradually, according to Peggy Valier, who serves a swing shift as chef-maitre d’ at Le Bocage. She added that men customers aren’t always comfortable dealing with her position of authority in the dining room.

‘They will open their own wine rather than leave me do it. Or if I tell them there’s a wait for their table, they’ll say, ‘Oh, dear, you must be wrong.’

Susan Deavers said that she is cheered (and is hopeful that women like Ms. Valier and company will be also) by news from a Detroit area restaurant, a ‘white tablecloth’ restaurant at that.

‘It’s owned by a man. He has stopped hiring men and only wants women to work for him. He says that from his own experience men are much too temperamental.'”

-Excerpt and images courtesy of, The Boston Globe, “Kitchen doors closed to women,” by Otile McManus, March 7, 1974. (top) “Patrica Butler at Cafe L’Orange, left, and Suzy Dammin at Turtle Cafe.” (Photos by Bob Backoff, George Rizer)

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