Mpls.St.Paul mag pushes back against all-male chef flap

Is there legitimacy to the hurt feelings and online outrage against Mpls.St.Paul magazine, which is under fire for this cover?

“We’re just so sick of it,” Brenda Langton, who owns Spoonriver Restaurant in Minneapolis, tells MinnPost’s Brian Lambert. “It’d be different if this weren’t such a long pattern of this stuff.”

Says Lambert…

“There were four of us,” who contributed to the food package, says March, referring to herself, Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, who is something like the grand dame of Twin Cities food writers, WCCO-TV morning show host Jason DeRusha and writer Peter Lilienthal.

It was those four who came up with the Best Restaurants and the 12 “Top Chefs.” Which is pretty much how it usually goes. Fine. Whatever. But we’re talking the decision to slap a dozen men on the cover of a magazine heavily weighted to appeal to a female audience.

Since there was no science to the choice of the “Top Chefs,” there was also no hard and fast, ethical or legal reason not to re-fashion the cover, certainly once the Group of Four saw the total gender disparity of their food elite. What stopped them from pivoting to something — anything — that allowed them to mix in a few female (and maybe even minority) faces?

In his Star Tribune column, Jon Tevlin points out that the magazine included “a long, glowing profile of Lucia Watson, former owner of Lucia’s.”

Kim Bartmann, owner of eight restaurants and one of the women who signed the letter, said maybe food critics need to think more about what “best” means. “Does it mean only new American-style restaurants or ones where they use tweezers to plate every single dish?”

After the issue came out, about 35 women in the restaurant industry got together at Bartmann’s the Third Bird to discuss how to respond to “covergate.” The letter came out of that meeting.

Bartmann acknowledged that the content inside the magazine was good, but she wants someone to admit the photo was a bad choice. She said the cover set the tone for the article and implied that men are the only ones doing quality work, “and that’s a conscious choice,” she said. “I just wish someone would admit they made a mistake.”

Asked by a reader on Facebook to respond to a Star Tribune story asking where the women are, Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl asks …

Um, what part of it? The part of my take would you like? The part how the outrage willfully skips over my massive 3,000 word profile of Lucia inside the magazine? The part about how women who I’ve worked with for 15 years and who all have my phone number declined to ask or tell me about this, and that Lee Svitak Dean who also has been a colleague for more than a decade didn’t call for a quote, or a response? That the strategic placement of magazines for this here photo obscures our diverse covers—with a gay couple last month and an African American in December. That Kim Bartmann is the lead finger pointer, and hired two top-restaurant chef positions last year (The Third Bird) and Tiny Diner (filling that spot twice) and filled those spots with men? I have a lot of takes on this. There’s also the disgusting stuff now filling the internet about how the people of color in the package have not been sufficiently excluded from majority culture so they don’t count. Oh, and I’ve now heard I’m in real-life torrid affairs with chefs, so there’s that. Incidentally, it’s a great issue which captures the current restaurant scene in the Twin Cities—not the chef scene—beautifully. And if you’re a woman chef running a restaurant here and you think you’re not getting sufficiently covered, reach out. I’d love to meet you.

She refers to the controversy as an “Internet outrage fest.”

Stephanie March, the magazine’s editor, said on her blog she realized at the photo shoot that a woman (or two) was missing.

But here was the parameter set: Among the 50, pick the top 12 restaurants. If you have to pick the 12 best for a picture, who would you choose? Now, which female would you swap for which male, because there are only 12 spots? There are three medals at the Bocuse d’Or, only one chef walks away from the Best Chef Midwest category with a James Beard Award, you can’t say “well let’s just add more so we can include everyone.” But people have suggested that we should have included women in the picture just to be more fair.

Quite honestly, isn’t the “token” metric just as offensive as a blind eye? I happen to be female, and I think so. I hope that when you read my words you think “that Steph March is one crisp cookie” not “that Steph March is one crisp cookie, for a girl.”

We judged them on their food, on their restaurant, not their religion, sexual preference, or gender.

That being said, I will tell you the game is changing. There were restos in the last Best 50 that aren’t in it this year, and so it will go again next year, and the year after that. That’s the fun. THAT should be the discussion. Part of me, the part with the ovaries, looks very much forward to the future time when I don’t have to think: And yet.

March told Tevlin the photo was originally to run inside the magazine.

“I get the sensitivity to that cover,” she said. “To me, it’s disappointing that it takes away from the stories inside” that are much more representative of the community. Suddenly it doesn’t matter to these women, who are in the story inside. So it means somehow that the words don’t matter.”