Usually, discussions about sexism in the restaurant industry focus on discrimination, harassment, and other barriers to success that women chefs face, or on harassment from customers, coworkers, or supervisors that leaves women who work front-of-house unable to do their jobs.
So it’s disappointing, but not surprising, to hear a prominent and successful business owner’s reductive view that his female customers are more desirable (to his business and to everyone else) if they’re “hot.”
Last week, Philly.com published an interview with restaurateur and chef Michael Schulson. Schulson, the owner of Sampan, Graffiti Bar, Double Knot, and Harp & Crown, among others, recaps career ups and downs, confesses his own non-foodie eating habits, and weighs in on the current state of Philly’s food scene — typical topics for this type of Q&A.
At the end of the interview, Schulson is asked why his restaurants are “such a hit with millennial women.” This was his response:
I have a belief, and I’ve said this for 20 years now: You cook for the hot chicks. And I hope nobody takes that the wrong way because it’s not meant to be chauvinistic or anything. When I think of my wife [Nina], I think my wife is very attractive and smart. I think she’s a hot woman. But when we go out to eat, she’s picking where we’re going out to eat, and cooking for the hot chick means you’re cooking a certain type of item, you’re putting crab, shrimp, lobster, filet — those are the kind of things — tuna, they’re looking for the lighter, cleaner things. That’s what women like to eat. So when they look at a restaurant or a menu, they’re going to pick that restaurant. And then take it further, then you have the single guy. Where does the single guy want to go eat? At the restaurant that has the pretty women. And the pretty women are going to be at the restaurant that serves the food that they want to eat.
Whether Schulson realized it or not, his words exemplify the way patriarchy influences the choices both men and women make, from where we spend our Saturday nights to what foods we decide to put in our bodies.
Let’s unpack this, shall we?