Might as Well Be Barefoot and Pregnant: Women at the Beard Awards

The theme of this year's James Beard awards gala is "Women in Food." The gala, it's worth noting, is not the awards ceremony — it's the post-ceremony tasting reception, in which black-tie-clad winners and losers mingle with paying-ticket plebes and starstruck food journalists to fight over bite-sized skewers of foie gras, and cluster around the multiple open bars. So it's really nice and all that they're honoring the girls in the kitchen by letting them cook for the rest of the guests, but we can't help but feel that this is a bit of misdirected pandering.

Of this year's nominees for the Restaurant and Chef awards — the ones that, let's face it, are the only ones most people care about — women aren't too well represented. It's no worse than any other year, sure, but contrasted against the hot-pink announcements that this year's gala is "celebrating Women in Food," the asymmetry comes into sharp relief.

Of the five nominees for Outstanding Restaurateur: zero women. Outstanding Chef: one of five. Outstanding Restaurant: one of five. Rising Star Chef: one of six. Best New Restaurant: zero. Outstanding Wine Service: zero. Outstanding Service: zero. In fact, of the 19 overall categories, the only one in which a majority of the nominees are female is — surprise, surprise — Outstanding Pastry Chef, a.k.a. "the Ladies' category," in which three of the five have two X chromosomes.

All in all, there are only 16 women represented in a total of 96 nominees — a scant sixth of the field. Then of course, there's the ceremony's emcee, Cat Cora — a wholly artificial television personality who's finally opening her first restaurant, at Disney World. And there's the women who are "chairing" the gala, among whom are plenty who are no slouches in the kitchen but apparently aren't good enough to get nods this year: April Bloomfield, Maria Hines, Anita Lo, and Kate Zuckerman, just to name a few.

So here's the message: The girls can look hot on stage, and they can plan the party. Heck, they can even cook for the guests. But their pretty little necks aren't strong enough to wear that James Beard medal.

Post-Awards Update: Despite making up a staggering 1/6th of the nomination pool, the total number of women who won at this year's Women in Food Beard Awards was — drumroll, please — two. Our congratulations to Gina DePalma and Maria Hines.

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