Despite the massive success of household names like Julia Child and Alice Waters, women chefs are still not given their due, and the hour-long documentary Hungry, premiering next Friday night on Logo, attempts to shed light on the oft-ignored issue.
Hungry follows three chefs—Chef Pink Delongpre (Bacon & Brine; Solvang, CA), Chef Sarah Kirnon (Miss Ollie’s; Oakland, CA) and Chef Dakota Weiss (Estrella and Sweetfin Poke; Los Angeles, CA)—over the course of three months to highlight some of the challenges women face in being successful in the food industry. And it couldn’t be more timely, with the current election results having clued Americans into just how difficult it is for women to have access to any kind of power. Because it’s not that incredibly talented women chefs don’t exist, it’s that investors aren’t willing to put their money into a restaurant run by women, something Hungry delves into in detail.
Women chefs earn 28% less than their male counterparts and receive limited media attention compared to the likes of Gordon Ramsay or Wolfgang Puck. This is also reflected in the sad amount of women who own their own small businesses—Hungry reveals that women small business owners receive only 4.4% of the total dollars in conventional small business loans. So if women want to be chefs, they are generally having to work under a man, unable to create their own rules and ways of serving dishes they can dictate.
Outside of the “women” issue, Chef Delongpre is a tattooed butch lesbian living in a town of 5000 “farmers and Republicans.” She runs Bacon and Brine with her partner, whose dream was to have a spot of their own to serve kombucha and fermented products that she creates alongside Delongpre’s seasonal fare. Having worked under both men and women, Delongpre says she just wanted to be her own boss, especially having felt uncomfortable in male-dominated work spaces.
“I always found it was my personality that made me work harder than it was the pair of tits,” she says in Hungry. “I just don’t like answering to anyone.”
Out chef Sarah Kirnon discusses the added struggle of being Black and serving Caribbean and Creole dishes that were sometimes misunderstood or misrepresented by the press. She moved her restaurant from San Francisco to Oakland in hopes of helping to “regenerate and rebuild” the city and its communities of color.
“I have a moral duty as someone who’s in this industry to represent the people that look like me, the people that don’t have a voice,” Kirnon says in Hungry. “Being that one black person in a business is tough, you know. And being that one female black person in a business is even harder, but it felt that it was a struggle worth fighting.”
Kirnon’s Miss Ollies underwent a big change during the taping, turning into a co-op so that employees could benefit from the restaurant they give so much time, energy and love to. Her passion for food being a shared experience of gratitude and belonging is part of her success, and she’s not necessarily looking for a wealthy investor to swoop in and fund what she’s created for herself and her community. Even with all of the praise she’s received from critics, she remains humble and insists “It doesn’t even make me radical to think that way. It makes me human. And we have lost that. People have lost that humanity.”
Other figures of the food community are part of Hungry as well, including one of the most well-recognized lesbian chefs, Susan Feniger. She owns and operates several restaurants including Mud Hen Tavern, Street and Border Grill, which she opened with business partner Mary Sue Milliken in 1985 and now boasts six locations in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. In Hungry, Milliken touches on the misogyny she’s faced throughout her longtime career.
“If I had let myself really see and feel the true sexism that I had experienced, I don’t think I’d have enough energy left over to really be as successful as I’ve been,” she said. “But now I can look back, and I can see things and I can see things currently going forward that I find really appalling.”
The food industry is still very much a boy’s club, with women fighting for recognition and a seat at the table (pun intended). There isn’t a lack of talent or drive—it’s opportunity, something that is still true about many industries today. Take, for instance, the fact that Hungry (directed by Patty Ivins) is even showing on Logo, a channel that is dedicated to LGBT programming but rarely provides any original content for or about women. A glance at their website will tell you that all of their featured shows is focused on men and drag queens.
Visibility for women in all industries represents opportunity, and that is especially necessary for minority women—women of color, queer women and disabled women who are often disenfranchised and provided even less opportunity to become successful.
“Being a woman who is in her power—when women of color talk to me, or when young black women look at me in this setting, they’re empowered by seeing somebody who’s saying this is what we need to do,” Kirnon says. “The movement that’s happening here—you can see the shift.”
What Hungry provides is a well-needed perspective on how women chefs are motivated to create homes for themselves in an industry and world that rarely offers them any parity. Not only do women deserve to have reign over their own restaurants, but what they offer is beneficial to their customers and communities. Hungry provides some optimism, though—its stars and other subject matter experts suggest that women are mentoring each other more than ever, and looking forward to a future providing experiences and opportunities to the next generation of female chefs.
“Women bring a point of view,” Milliken says in the film. “They bring something that’s really valuable. It’s valuable in how the community and the team works together in the kitchen or in the front of the house. And so if women aren’t part of that conversation, the food business is not going to get where we need to go.”