Two years ago, Time magazine published an article tracing the genealogy of the most influential chefs and culinary thinkers in the game today. They called it, “The Gods of Food.” As the title suggests, “gods” did in fact mainly imply men. Though not a malicious snub to women thinkers and chefs in the industry, this lack of inclusion exposed a bigger cultural bias—women have always had to fight harder for press, for business investors, for inclusion in the accolades that can make or break a successful career in the cutthroat restaurant industry.
In a karmic turn of events, the skewed representation in Time’s divine listicle set off an avalanche of conversations reclaimed by women chefs themselves. In the spirit of this and the broader vision of Off the Menu: Asian America, this piece strives to highlight the significant contributions to our plates and dining experiences by women today. Here, I oblige my way into the childhoods, culinary background and raison d’être of eight Asian American women chefs, some of whom helm the most revered kitchens in the U.S while others are home cooks and creatives who added a special touch to their community. This list is not definitive, but a contribution to an evolving conversation.
What did I learn from them? Your race doesn’t really matter. Gender is also beside the point. But the grit, a curious palate and the tremendous focus to cut through every obstacle in this cutthroat industry where “the gods” call lots of shots, are ultimately what mold a successful chef.
—Diana Emiko Tsuchida