“A woman’s place is in the kitchen” is typically meant as a sexist statement -- as a way of reinforcing stereotypes about women being subservient and staying at home to do domestic work, but at The Stockpot restaurant in Virginia Beach, there are four women who are doing just the opposite. Anne Galante, Michelle Smith, Michelle Bui, and Latoya Smith work together in the kitchen to churn out delicious yet healthy comfort food to patrons each and every day.
Let’s first take a moment to reflect on stats in the culinary world.
The 2017 50 Best Restaurants list by Eater didn’t choose one single restaurant that is exclusively run by a woman. Not one. In the entire world. Last year’s list had the same issue.
Next, according to a 2016 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a little more than 20% of chefs and cooks are women. A 2016 study held by Glassdoor shows that the chef position is tied for the second-highest “adjusted” wage gap, with women making 28% percent less than men in the same position.
Ironically, there has been a rise of women in culinary fields. At the Culinary Institute of America, almost half of students were women as of October 2015, according to the school, compared to about 37 percent in October 2005. Of the women enrolled, 46 percent are studying culinary arts, and 37 percent are studying baking and pastry, with the remainder majoring in management, culinary science or applied food studies.
At The Stockpot, co-owner and Executive Chef Anne Galante and her tight-knit team are defying all the previously mentioned statistics by having four women in the kitchen all at once. Her own resume speaks to a depth of experience, with stints at three well-known restaurants: Leaping Lizard Cafe, Pacifica, and Terrapin. All of them are in Virginia Beach.
Even though she didn’t intend to have an all-female staff, these women were the ones who had the best fit and the greatest potential. Galante lights up when she talks about working in the kitchen with them: “We feel really happy to be here and we feel an amazing and positive energy. There’s a sense of support and cohesiveness; everyone is excited to be here, and it’s refreshing.”
This well-oiled machine works extremely well together. Galante and her sous-chef, Michelle Smith, have been together for 14 months, with Michelle Bui and Latoya Smith joining the team recently. As Galante puts it: "We all have a sense of mutual respect; a common drive and sense of professionalism and that’s really, really nice to be around. We really inspire each other. It’s exciting that we’re all on the same page. It’s like hanging out with your friends at work or being on the same sports team and sitting in the back of the bus making jokes."
It’s gratifying to Galante that young women can “see...chefs on TV, but they can come here and actually see it in their neighborhood, and that’s the coolest part about it.”
When asked about sexism in the culinary industry, she remarks, “I’ve always grown up with the mentality that no one is going to tell me where I belong. This is a very ego-driven profession, and I think that it’s hard to deal with egos, and sometimes it’s not a comfortable environment. There’s just the expectation that the man is the chef, and we have to break those social norms. You have to get past that, be confident, know your skills, and educate yourself. You can work, and be prideful in what you do, and be determined, and I think you can achieve anything.”
Perhaps one day an all-female cooking team won’t be seen as such an anomaly; with the amount of women entering the culinary realm each day, it isn’t a leap in logic to imagine that kitchen staffs will show more equal representation. Until then, the exceptional women at The Stockpot will lead the way with their determination, skill, and talent.
Photography by Joshua Fitzwater
ABOUT SOUTHERN GRIT MAGAZINE: Southern Grit Magazine is a food publication based in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia and aims to open an honest dialogue about food in the region. Each issue is themed, and highlights different food-related issues within that theme. Southern Grit features recipes and reviews as well as more creative content spinning off each theme.