TURNED HARDCOPY IN ON TIME. FORGOT TO POST TO BLOG.
The Food Network is quite possibly the most popular channel on US television for folks to binge out on everything food related. The channel offers a broad range of entertainment from games shows related to food to how-to’s on making a whole Thanksgiving dinner in 4 hours. At the face of these shows, are usually notable food icons such as professional chefs, male and female alike. One show my girlfriend and I have come to enjoy over the last couple years is a game show by the name of Cutthroat Kitchen. The show puts four chefs up against each other in an elimination style fashion with a unique twist. Cutthroat Kitchen is known for it’s outrageous “sabotages” that contestants bid for before each round in order to make other chefs work from a disadvantage of some sort. This increases the competitiveness of show tenfold.
Each episode always has a split of male and females starting out, so watching the chefs’ behaviors, and even going further, and dissecting the mannerisms of each gender is quite interesting. If one puts the show into a feminist’s lens, a couple questions get raised almost instantly: Are the female chefs represented on television breaking away from the social roles relating to food that have been ascribed to them in eras past i.e. “housewives”? How to do their mannerisms differ or relate to their male counterparts in the kitchen?
If one is attempting to view how these female chefs break the mold that have been instilled throughout our once very slanted, patriarchal culture, one needs to pay attention to the actual meals that these female chefs choose to prepare during the rounds.
“Mothers were expected to educate, if not tame, their adolescent daughter’s propensity for “sweetmeats, bonbons, and summer drinks” as well as for “stimulating foods such as black pepper and vinegar pickle”. (Brumberg, 1997) This quote spoke to me in the context of this show because the chefs have complete autonomy to cook what they please, long as the dish falls into the broad category the host presents for each round. The quote reads in a very suppressing manner. These female chefs break away from this old Victorian notion that their mothers should’ve taught, even tame, them to avoid certain foods by creating these unique dishes they bring to the judge’s table.
I believe a big misconception people have had in the past is that if a female is in the kitchen cooking the dish is going have a level health consciousness to it, stemming from the need to take care of her family; a homemaker mentality. These female chefs are cooking to their own specific tastes and preferences, which they’ve learned on their own free will or maybe were taught from someone else other than their mother. The thought that mothers are the only ones nowadays to teach their daughter how and what is acceptable to cook would extremely one-dimensional.
For instance, in episode 10 of season 9, a professional female chef by the name of Claire Robinson comes onto the show and is faced with making Pu Pu platter. Pu Pu Platters usually involve many forms of protein meaning food items can vary platter to platter. Instead of abiding to clichés or stereotypes, she went against the grain and threw her own personal southern twist on this Chinese dish. This, in my opinion, is exemplary of how today’s female chefs break away from traditional homemaker cooking ties.
The mannerisms of the women on this show generally break away from social stereotypes as well. Both genders are forced into this competitive mindset & area where they’re pitted against each other in the hope of winning up to $25,000. The women are just as competitive as the men battling it out in this almost warlike culinary arena. When we think of 20th century cliché gender roles that get played out in media our minds typical go to women being homemakers and men off working or fighting in the military. These women that participate on this show are destroying those stereotypical barriers and essentially flipping gender roles by cooking tactically and using their money wisely during the auction rounds. They are not afraid to use that potential winning money in order to sabotage someone else. If you watch the show, they can be anything but passive at times, engaging in big bidding wars over a potentially detrimental sabotages they do not want to come their way. There’s a level of ruthlessness on this show, and men aren’t they only ones participating in the sabotaging aspect of Cutthroat Kitchen.
The image to the right is sous chef and Cuthroat Kitchen Participant, Janet Ross. As you can see, she’s dealing with a sabotage in this still image. I think the image is very telling of the behavior of a lot of the women chefs that come onto the show. They usually have a positive attitude about sabotages / adversity. She may be gritting her teeth, but it’s with a smile. Without video or audio you can see she’s handling the sabotage well. This is what separates the female contestants from the male contestants on this show. The females tend to handle the pressures the show’s twist better than the men do. Men often get more so frustrated at their sabotages, stop thinking straight, and sometimes it’s unfortunately their demise within the show.
When it comes to the gender role swap with warlike actions in the female personas, in episode 4 of season 11, we see a male chef win a sabotage that ends up affecting two other contestants. The contestants he picks happen to be both female. We instantly see a competitive fire ignite in the women’s expressions and mannerisms as they are chosen. In the pic to the left, you can see the look in their faces, and even more so in the first woman’s hand gesture, that they are not happy about this. The girl in the front making the slit throat gesture can be quoted as saying, “Of course, trying to take the girls out first! We’re coming from ya baby! We’re gonna get ya!” right after the news is bestowed upon them. And the female in the back ended up winning the next sabotage that ironically took out the male chef all the way in the back of the image on the prior page. These women kept a cool head and persevered over the challenge making it into the next round. It goes back to the breaking of the stereotypical passive mold whilst participating in this war-like game.
While the women have proven themselves able to hang with the men when it comes to these sabotages, like I said, sometimes it’s the males that fall short and crack under the pressure of the sabotages. Like this chef here to the right; he was featured on a special episode that was sort of like boot camp. The setting was outside located near a lake and the sabotages were specifically designed for that episode. His sabotage was that all his cooking needs were floating out in the lake on platforms and he had to use an inner tube-like float to make it from station to station in order to complete his meal. You can see in his expression alone he is struggling to make it work from himself. The whole time he complains and whines about the water being cold and fish nibbling at his feet. This challenge ends up making him lose that round.
Peeling back the layers of this show, and analyzing various contestants, has solidified in my mind that the gender roles associated with cooking are surely dissolving. Cutthroat Kitchen erodes stereotypes like women cooks tend to be homemakers. The show brings female chefs, caterers, nutritionists, restaurant owners, and other professions to light where the females shine just as well as their male counterparts. Men aren’t the only ones going to war nowadays… These women on the show can be even more brutal and unforgiving than the men when it comes to sabotages. We live in an era where not everything is black and white anymore. Paradigms shift, and the ways of yesterday don’t always set the stage for what’s happening today. Cutthroat Kitchen gives great examples of how the times are changing when it comes to gender and food.
Brumberg, J. J. (1997) The Appetite as Voice.