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Jun 16, 2008 05:57 AM

Why a Female Needed To Win Top Chef

Why a Woman Needed to Win Top Chef:

It was definitely time for a female to take the glory. And I'm not even saying that because men have all won the previous three seasons, though that's certainly reason enough.

1. The nature and the makeup of the final competition - The fact that Stephanie, this season's victor, competed against a man (a likely and talented frontrunner, who was a top pick from the get-go) and another woman during the final challenge was brilliant. Even playing field—each equally regarded the other as an opponent. Although Lisa's presence in the top three was a little questionable (how did she manage to eek it out that far???), there was no sorority or girl-power high-fiving between her and Lisa simply because of their shared geneder and the knowledge that either of them winning would be historic.

2 The medium of the show itself - The current tv-viewer's perception of female cooks is a fairly one-dimensional and arguably inaccurate one. And it needs to change. If you look at other food programs on television, most notably on the Food Network, the number of male hosts and chefs vastly outnumber the females. And of the well-known women that do have shows (Rachael Ray, Paula Deen, Barefoot Contessa's Ina Garten), none of them are actual chefs, trained and toughened by working the line in real restaurants. Top Chef's female contestants were hardly Sandra Lees. They butcher, they swear (some of them), they sweat—just like the guys. That's an accurate representation of female chefs. Viewers should see them that way, and see them win that way.

3. The prize - Instead of getting their own tv food show, the chance to be a spokesperson for Glad family products, or any other frilly stuff, Top Chef winners actually get cash for a restaurant (which as we know, isn't the easiest thing in the world to open without ample funds). The number of female chefs who own their own restaurants is still dwarfed by the number of men, so that leg up--thank you Top Chef--is perhaps the most fitting prize a female chef (any chef, but specifically a female), could ask for.

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  1. "Historic"? Not quite sure I'd call it an "historic" win.

    As for "definitely time" - while I'm glad Stephanie won, I didn't care whether it was a woman or man who won - I just wanted the "best chef" to win. So just because 3 men had won the previous TCs, if Richard had won this one, great - good on him. Having had 3 previous male winers is not "reason enough" to have a woman win this time. Stephanie proved herself and deserved the win, but if she had not, I would have been ticked off had they given it to her "because 3 men won the last 3 seasons."

    As for the prize - after taxes, it's probably closer to $65K or less. And Stephanie says she's got lots of credit card bills to pay off. So I doubt a lot is going towards opening a restaurant. The exposure she got as a cheftestant and winner of TC4 will, hopefully, draw in investors in her next restaurant - that's where the majority of the money will come from.

    1. This isn't exactly a Selma/Sally Ride moment.. its a cooking competition, and I am glad that Stephanie cooked well and won the day. I have a friend involved in the show and the comment about Stephanie was "her food always tasted good." But just a Casey lost last season, Richard could have won it as well.. the best thing for all aspiring chef's is to see someone win based on cooking good food..

      You might want to overcome your own assumptions about the female chef's you speak of.. Paula Deen worked in restaurants, and opened her own in the 90's in Savannah, well before she started convincing millions of us to eat tons of butter.

      Interesting read on this topic though..

      1. I found it strange that the producers kept playing up the first female winner angle.
        Top Chef has had only 4 seasons... If it were a 10 year run, I can see the hoopla.

        Personally, making such a big deal about the first female winner, denigrates the female chefs that are already out their working hard. They don't need any validation of their capabilities. Also, it ignores the hard work of people like April Bloomfield, Cat Cora and Giada De Laurentiis (both of whom are on FN, professionally trained and worked as a pro).

        Also, statistically speaking, 1 female in 4 seasons is about right. Typically, if it were about gender alone, rolling the dice it should work out to 50/50. However, when you account for the profession - male dominated, the odds are skewed towards the male chefs so it makes sense that more male chefs have won Top Chef.

        1. A female didn't "need" to win, a female just happened to win. Big diff.

          1. sorry to break the news to you, but female cooking shows outnumber male cooking shows 2-1

            ...they make for better 'presentation'

            all the old cooking shows featuring male chefs are being pulled (e.g. emeril, mario, etc)...notice that the male shows on the food network aren't even about cooking anymore, it's about them doing some gig traveling across the country.

            people are making too big of a deal with the 'female winning TC'

            5 Replies
            1. re: attractivekid

              <sorry to break the news to you, but female cooking shows outnumber male cooking shows 2-1> perhaps, but how many of the TVFN female hosts are chefs? Rachael Ray? no. Ingrid Hoffman? no. Giada? not sure. professional training does not make one a chef, running a professional kitchen does.

              In any case, the perception that TVFN puts forth for most of their male stars is professional and "cheflike," if you will. for the women, it's "housewifely."


              1. re: ChefJune

                There's a lot more 'food tv' than FN and bravo.

                I also knew they would pick a woman, because four years in a contest, in reality style tv, would look fixed. This is a show playing not just towards foodies, but an average tv viewer as well.

                Stephanie obviously deserved to win, but we as a viewer will never know what behind the scenes finagling really went on to ensure that win and who ended in up in the finale.

                Richard was obviously counting on his sous chef...he didn't even have a full menu prepared by the close of the first day it seemed. He was my pick, but it always seemed he was going up against stacked odds.

                1. re: sommrluv

                  Sorry - just don't believe it was "fixed" to have a woman win. Even Chef Colicchio has said that - if Stephanie had failed badly enough in a previous challenge, she would have been gone.

                  He has repeatedly said - they're looking for the best chef. Period. There is no "behind the scenes finagling". There is no way that Colicchio and other guest chef judges would put their reputations on the line like that for a reality TV show! I just don't get why people can't understand something as simple as that!

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    Trust what Linda says.. I have a friend who works in the production of the show. They are busy enough filming it, planning everything out, etc., to try to "game" it. As in any reality show, they may emphasize plot lines/personality conflicts to add some drama, but when it comes to results, its the judges call.

                2. re: ChefJune

                  "In any case, the perception that TVFN puts forth for most of their male stars is professional and "cheflike," if you will. for the women, it's "housewifely."

                  look at the current TVFN listing, i don't know anyone in their current lineup that fits your profile as a professional chef, male or female -- which is what TVFN is aiming for anyways. They've been changing their lineup to 'quick and easy' shows since their viewership is pretty much housewives (look at who their commercials are geared towards). Furthermore, look at all the people who've been applying to be on The Next Foodnetwork Star, that should also give you some idea on who the TVFN wants. So many people who have a serious interest in food have stopped watching this channel and switched over to PBS, which is where most of TVFN's original hosts have been moving to as well.

                  And for what it's worth, Anne Burrell is getting her own show (Secrets of a Restaurant Chef) about the professional kitchen, which is ironic since Mario Batalli is leaving TVFN entirely this year. So yes, to all you women, you can have your cake and eat it too.