Is there a gender divide when it comes to cooking in restaurants? Mike Weiss attempted to find out in San Francisco. Take the Serious Eats "Mama" vs. "Show-off" Cook's Test and see for yourself. Below, you'll find Serious Eats' San Francisco correspondent Harold Check's take on the story along with some video that might help you with the test.
Joyce Goldstein, the retired ground-breaking chef-restaurateur behind Square One in SF, framed the argument this way:
Listen, there are two kinds of cooks, there's mama cooks and show-off cooks. Now, not all mama cooks are women but all the show-off cooks are men. Boys with chemistry sets. Boy food is all about: 'Look at me!'
Mama food is there to satisfy you, to feed you, to take care of you. You remember mama food and it makes you happy. That other stuff, it amazes you, but it doesn't make you happy.
Goldstein's argument is brilliant in how carefully she frames both sides. Let's parse what she said very carefully.
"Not all mama cooks are women." That is most assuredly true. Tom Valenti of Ouest in NYC is a mama cook. His food makes you happy. There's tons of technique in his food but he doesn't hit you over the head with it. He almost never shows off. Tom Douglas in Seattle is a mama cook. Daniel Boulud can make delicious "mama cook" food like his short ribs, but he is much more often a show-off cook. Same with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Thomas Keller. The more chefs you think about the more interesting Goldstein's proposition gets.
"All show-off cooks are men." Try as I might I can't refute this claim either. I can't think of one woman "show-off" chef.
Let's put Goldstein's theory to the test. Here is the first Serious Eats "Mama Cooks" vs. "Show-off Cooks" pop quiz. A list of prominent chefs from across the country follows. Please tell us when you comment whether they are "mama cooks" or "show-off cooks."
- Mario Batali, NYC and Las Vegas (Babbo, Del Posto, Lupa, Otto)
- Alice Waters, Berkeley, CA (Chez Panisse)
- Tom Colicchio, NYC and Las Vegas (Craft, Craftsteak, 'Wichcraft)
- Nancy Silverton, Los Angeles (Pizzeria Mozza, La Brea Bakery)
- David Chang, NYC (Momofuku, Momofuku Ssam Bar)
- Nancy Oakes, San Francisco (Boulevard)
- Bobby Flay, New York and Las Vegas (Mesa Grill, Bar Americain, Bolo)
- Emeril Lagasse, New Orleans, Orlando, and Las Vegas (Emeril's, Delmonico's, Nola)
- Grant Achatz, Chicago, (Alinea)
- Traci Des Jardins, SF (Jardiniere)
Maybe we'll get Joyce Goldstein to grade the tests. Have fun, and answer as many of the questions as you like.