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Feb 6, 2011 06:35 PM

HuffPo: Gender Bias on Top Chef

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  1. I think the point about blind tasting is a good one - it would eliminate ANY potential bias, not just gender, but personalities, any favoritism that may not have to do with cooking, etc. (i.e., maybe a judge is partial to a chef that cooked at so-and-so restaurant under so-and-so.)

    And I agree that biases occur often without one wanting them to - we often expect stereotypes to hold true, even if on a subconscious level. We are all somewhat subject to preconceived notions, no matter how hard we try to fight them, and we're all socialized with the norms of our culture - and most cultures tend to put women in the role of nurturing caregivers who give of themselves, sometimes at the expense of themselves.

    Things i might disagree with in the article:

    there have been quite a few famous female judges on TC. Although i would say that a lot of those females would agree that on their way to the top they had to deal with a lot of bias and sexism themselves, whether overt or covert.

    While a lot of the time I wish the TC challenges were solo challenges, a good amount of them are team challenges. So yeah, women tend to want to do something for the good of the team. the guys on TC typically say "hey, i'm in it for me, it's a contest (which it is) and i'm not here to help anyone. When a male cheftestant does offer help, he's looked at suspiciously and questioned about ulterior motives, even sabotage (Angelo).

    We can never know for sure what the judges discuss or acknowledge off air about the non-food choices the chefs make - as has been discussed over and over, the show is highly edited, as they all are.

    thanks for posting this, ghg, good article!

    5 Replies
    1. re: mariacarmen

      Here's my thoughts on blind judging (which I x-posted on the TC thread).

      I was once in favor of blind tasting for TC but after thinking about it some more, I don't think it would be more fair to have blind tasting.

      In fact, I think it would be less fair.

      I think it should be expected that Fabio would make better gnocchi than say Tre, or that Angelo might be able to do crudo or sashimi better than Tiffany.

      Is it fair for the judges to consider the pedigree of the TC contestants when judging their dishes? I think so.

      Regardless of whether they admit to it or not, this is really how the dynamics of food v. chef v. diner really works.

      If I go to Lagasse's restaurant and get plated an egg roll, I'm going to judge it very differently than if I went to Susur Lee's restaurant and was plated an egg roll.

      It's just the way life works.

      1. re: mariacarmen

        Tom C. has addressed the question of blind tasting in his blog and his stance is that it wouldn't work. His position is that after a few weeks the judges (the regular ones that is) can recognize most contestants dishes without being told who prepared them. Each chef has his/her own signature style which quickly becomes recognizable to other professional chefs.

        To use violinist example from the article, it would be akin to having the conductor of an orchestra listen to each of the violinist in her/his orchestra blindly. The conductor could easily tell whose playing.

        1. re: kmcarr

          Regardless, blind auditions for orchestras are standard!

        2. re: mariacarmen

          And what if the guys win more often even with blind-testing? I guess we could chalk it up to us girls being taught to tend the home and cook for our family.

          1. re: sushigirlie

            That is still another argument, which is the judges are inherently biased at the taste level.

        3. I have felt that this was the case for some time, and when I mentioned it somewhere in one of the recap threads, I was taken to task for saying that there might be some gender bias, and wasn't it strange that so many female had been eliminated so early in the competition. Clearly, to say that there isn't gender bias in many areas of work is just being blind to the facts. I think that the example given in this article about auditioning musicians is particularly telling. Having been a very senior executive in what was a male-dominated industry, I also faced a lot of gender bias -- I could play with the boys, but they really didn't want me to. Plus, being a strong executive who wasn't afraid to make tough decisions generally got you labeled as a bitch as opposed to decisive. I think that it is a problem that is in full flower in Top Chef.

          3 Replies
          1. re: roxlet

            Not going to read the article as I think it's a bunch of hooey. With TC it's simply not a large enough sample to be significant. Add to that that Tom is gay and Padma and Gail are women and it just doesn't add up.


            1. re: JuniorBalloon

              LOL! Ummm, yeah. And your evidence that Tom Colicchio is gay? Just because he's adored by the gay community doesn't mean he's gay, you know.

              1. re: LindaWhit

                Well slap me and call me stupid. Very interesting. I had assumed he was gay because of a comment he made a few years back on TC. He said "my partner and I are having a baby." While it's not a litteral quote he did use the word "partner" which in my gaydar reference for suburban-middle-aged-dudes says he's gay.

                My bad. I did some googling and found a really touching article about his wedding that occured just after 9/11. They almost cancelled, but many people urged them to follow through. I can imagine there was a strong desire for community and need to bond with loved ones after that fateful day.

                Thanks for the correction Linda.

                Still I doubt there is any gender bias in TC.


          2. Tom has brought up the topic of blind judging. He claims that as the weeks of competition go by, the core group of judges becomes so familiar with each contestant's cooking style that true blind judging isn't possible.

            Unfortunately, we're watching a show that evaluates cooking and we have no way to taste what was put on the table the night of any given challenge. We're reduced to interpreting Judges' Table remarks, facial expressions, and body language, all remarkably imprecise ways of measuring actual taste. If we were all able to taste a contestant's food, we might be less inclined to see gender bias in some of the judges' choices. There not much of a way around accusations of gender bias when folks like Mike I come right out and say so!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Indy 67

              Since they wouldn't be as familiar with the contestant's cooking style, maybe blind judging would work if the guest judge's opinion had more weight than the core judges.

            2. Like mc, I'd like to see the blind tasting more often. I know they've done it in the past, and the judges are so familiar with these All-Stars' dishes that they'd probably be able to figure it out, but it would still be interesting to see how the judging would lean if they weren't actually aware of who cooked what dish.

              1. Note: I only read the first few lines of the article. I pretty much stopped after, "the women keep losing."

                What the heck is the point? The show/judges aren't bias. But, the industry as a whole is dominated by males. Because of that, there are many more talented male chefs than there are female chefs. Frankly, the show is being very PC and goes out of its way to start with an equal number of genders. If the show's producers pick contestants based only on their abilities, fact is that you'd start with way more males than females.

                8 Replies
                1. re: ediblover

                  the show, judges aren't bias (ed). How do you know that? The point is that biases are unconscious-thye may be biased and unaware of their biases. If you mean they don't have overt prejudices regarding gender, that may well be true.

                  1. re: karenfinan

                    Because the people that matter, the contestants and guest judges, have all commented on the judging and there are no reasonable suspicions for bias. So... What's next? Are you going to take the word of some of the most respected chefs in the world or...

                    I can think of tons of examples where the judges overlooked their own preferences and picked the better dish. Colicchio is a simple dish chef. So, if you think there's a bias, name the times when he picked a simple dish over a complex one when the latter was better. Taking the opposite side, think of the times when Wylie Dufresne was the guest judge. Did a really complicated dish win when he was there? Heck, take the judges selected this season. The wonderful Eric Ripert isn't there BECAUSE OF THE POTENTIAL FOR BIAS for his employee, Jen.

                    There's no case to be made here, other than "The women are losing!" And, that has a very obvious and simple explanation. There are more male chefs. As a result, the top tier will have more male chefs. Top Chef starts with an equal number of male and female chefs. The result is that, overall, the male chefs are going to be more talented. This was incredibly obvious (to a painful degree) in the Las Vegas season's wedding (well, bachelor's pool party) episode when teams were split by genders and the men easily took the win. If you think there's gender bias with the producers when they select the cast, you should take a peek at their genders.

                    1. re: ediblover

                      I believe they believe they are unbiased. But as the article you refused to read, studies have shown that people have unconscious biases. Just because the author used an extreme statement as a hook to start the article doesn't mean there weren't valid points in the article.

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        One study shows one thing and another will show another. And, unless you show a history of bias with one of the regular judges, it doesn't apply. Show me some past behavior where Tom or Padma was sexist towards a female chef (In the competition or out).

                        The explanation for the men winning is simple. Yet, the article claims bias. That's insulting to those associated with the show, everyone from the female producers to the female contestants.

                  2. re: ediblover

                    You showed your bias just by failing to read the article! Heaven forbid you even consider another point of view!

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      I didn't need to, because I had read enough. Did the article mention that the show goes out of its way to cast a 50/50 gender cast? What, if any (I'm guessing none), evidence did the article provide? The article was wrote for the sole purpose of trying to create a scandal.

                      Take any profession where one gender vastly outnumbers the other and make a list of the best of the best. It's a sure thing that the list will be dominated by a single gender. Now, create a competition on that profession. It's a sure thing that the winners will be dominated by a single gender.

                      Think of your favorite restaurants. Do you know the executive Chefs? Are the chefs male or female? What?! The chefs are mostly male?! You sexist bastard! That's how silly and empty the article is, and I don't have to read it to find that out.

                      1. re: ediblover

                        Why don't you read the article? It's not that long. Then you can critique on what it says, rather than what you think it says (or doesn't say). Your stubbornness in refusing to do so indicates the kind of close-minded bias you claim not to have.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Because it's garbage. What credibility does the article have? (None)

                          Unless YOU ACTUALLY ATE THE FOOD, you have no business making accusations. Because, it is a competition that's about the food. In what/any way is anyone other than the judges (and the fortunate guests) qualified to say what was a fair and unfair decision?

                          Accusations of bias on Top Chef comes down to either, "The chef I liked got eliminated" or "The chef I don't like survived."