Monday, July 1, 2013
“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.
|Photo by Robin May|
|Village Café Executive Chef Jeremy Conner, flanked by his all-female
evening kitchen staff; from 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.
Read more Anna Purdy, wordsmith-for-hire, occasional drinkslinge, and all around grand person on her blog. If that doesn't impress you, she can recite all the presidents in order!
Casual cool for Thanksgiving
Shop Lafayette goes strong
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
A divided 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a Lafayette district judge’s ruling absolving the co-owner of a New Iberia accounting firm of liability in an embezzlement case.
Our View: It’s reasonable, temporary and invests in Lafayette’s future.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
Three bedroom in Port Barre or two bedroom in Opelousas
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
“I am only getting a little nervous about two projects — the proposed Sasol GTL facility [not the new ethylene plant] and the proposed G2X facility — both in Lake Charles. They need a hefty difference between oil and natural gas prices to make sense.”
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Lower oil prices also might slow the growth of oil production in parts of the U.S., Canada and elsewhere because it will no longer be so profitable.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
A Lafayette woman faces up to 20 years in prison for running up more than $1 million in unauthorized charges to her company credit card.
Signs that our state’s banking industry is undergoing a downsizing in 2014 were further confirmed today with the FDIC’s latest figures showing a third straight quarter in which Louisiana lost more banks and earned less money.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
State police say a 47-year-old Lafayette man, who collected more than $83,000 in disability benefits, is accused of operating two businesses out of his home at a time when he claimed he had no income.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.