“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.
The circumstances surrounding the death last March while in the backseat of a sheriff’s cruiser of Victor White III, long a source of dispute by White’s family, have earned an investigation by federal officials.
Lafayette patio home or Port Barre waterfront cottage
With six of the LPSB’s nine members poised for Pat Cooper’s termination, a request was filed Tuesday for a fast-tracked hearing on the federal lawsuit calling for the disqualification of two board members from voting on the matter due to bias.
A few of my favorite things
Louisiana's Republican Party has filed a complaint against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu with the Senate's ethics committee about her use of private chartered planes.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
An attorney signs up to run against LPSB's Mark Cockerham, and within a week a lawsuit is filed by a former LPSS employee in an attempt to disqualify him. Coincidence?
According to Gov. Bobby Jindal, President Barack Obama needs to stop talking about “justice” and start murdering people, even if we have to go alone.
A replacement is expected by January to fill the vacancy left when Greg Roberts resigned after allegedly pointing a fake gun at an engineer during a June meeting.
The Ragin’ Cajuns got off to a superb start Saturday night, and the Human Jukebox made the soaked season opener even sweeter for the third-largest crowd in Cajun Field history.
The Louisiana health department will follow a federal judge's order and refrain from immediately penalizing doctors who are trying to comply with a new abortion law that requires them to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital, a spokeswoman said Monday.
Halliburton says it has agreed to pay $1.1 billion to settle a substantial portion of plaintiff claims arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
While bogged down with qualifying candidates last month, Secretary of State Tom Schedler didn’t lose sight of the true endgame coming in November and December.
Tuesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Stoned driving a concern when pot is legal; Detroit's bankruptcy trial; speed trap scandal in Florida and more national and international news for Tuesday, September 02, 2014.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The Houston firm said Friday in its weekly report that 1,575 rigs were exploring for oil and 338 for gas. One was listed as miscellaneous. A year ago there were 1,776 active rigs.
A crew began erecting the 25-foot mini-wheel late morning Friday in anticipation of the evening’s Hottest Night of the Year party at the park.
Frances Boothe of Nunez, who also happens to be filmmaker Stephen Meaux’s grandmother, prepares a cool-weather fave.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
New Iberia colonial or Broussard traditional home
The LPSB is poised and ready to move forward with the termination of Pat Cooper following a discussion Thursday with the attorney hired for the investigation of the superintendent, but a decision of this magnitude should be left up to the new board seated in January, especially with three pro-investigation board members bailing out come the new year.
Fiery style for game day
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.