So Why Don't More Women Win Top Chef?

Mike Isabella and Richard Blaise: Top Chef finalists, and men.
Another dude has won another season of Top Chef, and that's provided another opportunity to ask why there aren't more female chefs not only in the winners' circle, but also in the upper echelons of the kitchen hierarchy.

"Why can't women win Top Chef?" asks the story on Yahoo Shine. Several of the show's female contestants have some answers: "I don't think men are more professional," says Casey Thompson. "I think it's just how competition is built and played." "Women can only go so hard without getting labeled a 'b-tch,' but men can push to the end of the universe," says Tiffani Faison, who also contends that Jen Carroll wasn't sent home because of a bad dish, but because of a bad attitude. And according to Tiffany Derry, "Certain people mess up as much as anybody else, but for us it's an emotional thing." Incidentally, adds Thompson, "guys hated when women made soups."

All of this, of course, is exactly the sort of stuff people say to explain why women have a harder time than men in professional kitchens. It shouldn't come as that great a surprise that, as the article says, reality cooking competitions present a microcosm of the gender politics at play in restaurant kitchens. But seeking to explain the imbalance on TV also ignores the obvious, which is not only that contestants are sent home based on the judges' taste buds, but also that contestants with so-called bad attitudes are good for ratings and thus likely to stick around a little longer. And the bias argument is further weakened by Casey Thompson's own admission that "the judges really don't pull favorite cards. It's really about the food."

Of course, there's that old argument that women and men cook differently, which is usually framed by saying men like to do molecular things and women like to make comfort food. But while Richard Blaise certainly knew his way around a liquid-nitrogen canister, that argument is as overly simplified as it is tiring. There is, of course, plenty of dick-swinging on Top Chef, and that's tiresome, too, but as much as we'd like to see another woman win the title (Stephanie Izard is the only woman to have done so during the show's eight seasons), we'd also like to have a different conversation about why professional kitchens discriminate not only against women, but pretty much anyone who isn't a white male.

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I don't buy that argument that professional kitchens are the domains of white males. Hung won Top Chef 3 and Marcus Samuelson won Top Chef Masters 2. My gut feeling is that male chefs want to win more badly and take more risks than female chefs, and the more risks you take the better your chances of winning.


Yes, the possibility that the show is rigged in subtle and not-so-subtle ways always looms. Remember that Bravo is telling us who the "top chef" is, and they have a big piece of him. In fact, their profits depend on exploiting the winners in a number of lingering ways, and the network probably thinks that male chefs will be more monetarily successful than women, meaning more money for the network.

Or maybe they simply hate women -- unless they look and act like Padma.


I think when you look at the history of the Top Chef franchise (Top Chef, Masters and Just Desserts) and see that only one woman has won, the statistical discrepancy suggests some bias. Richard, the winner was the only man to lose to a woman in the finals and now he has been redeemed by winning this season. According to some reports, Tom convinced Wolfgang Puck to change his vote for the last finalist from Antonia to Mike. I have to wonder if someone in the process wanted to make absolutely sure Richard didn't lose to another girl.