“She has her little step stool and climbs right up to help me,” Jeremy Conner says of his young daughter, Cecile.
Conner has been executive chef at Village Café in River Ranch and its sister venture, POUR, for a little over a year now, yet his most finicky colleague can’t even drive. At only 5 years old, Cecile already knows more about how to cook and order a steak (“I like it red, Daddy, lots of red!”) than most adults. She helps him prepare everything he makes at home, clambering up to attempt to match her dad’s height. To say he is used to women in the kitchen is an understatement — in his case, they are everywhere.
|Photos by Robin May|
|Village Café Executive Chef Jeremy Conner, flanked by his all-female evening kitchen staff, from left are Mary Borden, Chanel Gaudé and Shani Garber.
Village Café stands unique as the only fine dining restaurant in Lafayette with an all-female staff. You know that old joke about “get back in the kitchen!” as a presumably humorous dismissal of a woman? The history of fine dining never got that joke.
The story of women in fine cuisine is short because it is so recent. Gourmet dining was long considered the realm of men. Professional kitchens are hot and dirty in every way. You can substitute “swearing like a chef” for “sailor” and the meaning is clear. Working in 115 degrees with orders barked from every direction has a way of making a person testy, and it was thought only someone strong of arms and fortitude could make it, so women, with the exceptions being small bistros that are usually family-run, were left out in the cold of the front of the house, if they were working there at all.
Not at Village Café. It is unusual because its evening kitchen staff is made up entirely of women, save the gentleman chef mentioned here. This wasn’t on purpose. “It just so happened that women started working there almost all at once,” says Conner, who joined the restaurant’s kitchen four years ago as chef de cuisine before being promoted to executive chef.
All three women are tied to Louisiana by birth or family. Shani Garber is Conner’s sous chef (in fine dining parlance that means she is second-in-command in the kitchen — Conner’s right hand [wo]man who takes over in his absence). “She has worked in several restaurants around town,” Conner says. “I hired her after she was done working at Café Vermilionville. She’s very good and has been here about two years now.”
Mary Borden works the line. She came back to Louisiana after attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York and went on to some of the best, most exclusive restaurants around the country before coming to work at Village Café.
Finally there is Chanel Gaudé who also works the line. “Of all the positions in most kitchens,” says Conner, “the grill is the hottest, the most demanding, the most requiring of attention. Traditionally this is the most stereotypically male position, very, very high volume.”
Jeremy equates this position to a barbecue pitmaster — that image most everyone gets of an old man at the grill.
He agrees it’s been historically difficult for women in fine cuisine. “The type of person that is going to succeed in a professional kitchen has to be motivated, doesn’t mind the heat, as long as they get to do what they dreamed of doing,” Conner says. “That type of person gets rarer, and as that happens the gender means less and less.”
Conner leans forward to tell me, without names, of the three good chef friends, all men, from around the country he contacted about his all-chick dinner staff. “One said, ‘Great! You need some diversity so it’s not a bunch of male egos battling each other.’ One said, ‘That’s great, just be careful in case there are catfights.’” It is the last chef pal he consulted who summarizes nicely why Village Café’s kitchen is unique. He told Conner quite simply and succinctly: “You’re an idiot.”
Consider that if you want to pretend it is not still a boy’s club back there.
Despite this, Conner’s take is the one we all have: “Can you work?” This is the only criterion that needs to be considered.
Heck, even Cecile knows that her place is in any kitchen — or any place she wants.
It wouldn’t be a first, however, as the Chamber has thrown money behind Landrieu before.
The Democratic incumbent, seeking her fourth term in office, is a strong supporter of the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance exports of U.S. companies.
Summertime floral with panache
Three bedroom St. Martinville traditional or three bedroom Lafayette contemporary cottage
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The world is a politically tense place these days with hot spots ranging from the Middle East to Ukraine. In Louisiana and Mississippi, where the political chessboard tends to be a lot less threatening and at times entertaining, this election season is living up to expectations.
As this year’s budget process slogs forward and the Lafayette Parish School Board maintains its hard-headed stance against using any of its more than $60 million reserve fund, another slate of critical programs have rolled through the chopping block, despite the ramifications for the school system.
Meat, cheese and veggies piled high on Texas toast
American companies export smog; UN calls for cease-fire in Gaza; fist bump keeps germ transfer down and more national and international news for Monday, July 28, 2014.
Monday's Blogs from the Bog!
Louisiana has joined nine other states in support of Indiana’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that the Hoosier State’s ban on sam-sex marriage violates the Constitution.
The eclectic vibe of summer
Three bedroom River Ranch cottage or four bedroom Youngsville traditional home
The parent of Investar Bank says its second-quarter earnings fell to $1.1 million or 26 cents a share from $1.7 million of 44 cents a share in the same period a year ago.
1,554 rigs were exploring for oil and 315 for gas. Two were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago there were 1,770 active rigs.
The Saints are being cautious in an effort to minimize risk of re-injury.
Most personal auto insurance policies exclude coverage when people charge money to drive others in their personal vehicles.
In this letter to the editor, Lafayette Parish School Board member Shelton Cobb (the board's former president) weighs in on the difficulty behind this year's budget process, calling out a number of his fellow board members over their inability to drop their power struggle with the superintendent and make the interests of the students a top priority.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
LSU Health Sciences Center says people with a common, hard-to-treat kind of lung cancer can join a new national trial to test drugs faster.
As New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis spoke about the opening of training camp, steep, tree-covered mountains were in full view behind them.
The family of fallen cyclist Lon Lomas is speaking out after the release this week of the man charged with his death.
"The solutions are obvious: undo consolidation, or amend the charter to make this hybrid attempt at a new form of government work better."
A refreshing twist at a Lafayette institution comes served with a black bean salad stuffed avocado
Louisiana's 21 casinos took in $203.5 million statewide in June, edging up one-half of a percentage point from a year earlier.
Three bedroom Sunset Victorian or three bedroom Opelousas Acadian home
Louisiana designer commissioned for NYC Awards gift
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is considering whether to get involved in a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal for his attempts to undermine use of the Common Core education standards in Louisiana's public schools.
Business First Bank has announced plans for a Baton Rouge market expansion through a merger deal with American Gateway Financial Corp.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.