Being a woman in a professional kitchen is not easy. Cooking has always been a man’s world, and even today, men helm most kitchens. Whether by stigma, prejudice, or schemas of gender roles, women cooks are far and few between, and women chefs are even more rare. In fact, Time Magazine’s November piece on “The Gods of Food” showcased no women whatsoever, which the editor attempted to defend by stating, “’I don’t make the sad news; I just reflect it, like a mirror.’”
As a woman cook, I look to other women in the industry for motivation and inspiration. And while times are changing, they are doing so slowly and painstakingly, a fact that chef Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune restaurant points out in her memoir, which I highly recommend.
In my visit to NYC, I knew I had to eat at chef Hamilton’s restaurant, and so on my last day, I went for brunch. Immediately, I was struck by the brilliance and integrity of the place. Having read her novel, I understood firsthand how much of her soul went into building this restaurant from scratch. Although small, the place is mighty, with an eye-catchingly pink awning and a hearty, homey menu meant to delight and satisfy. There are no substitutions allowed, which doesn’t surprise me, as that is becoming a trend, yet there is no need for any swaps once the food comes out.
I like eating out for brunch because it is a meal where anything goes. Early morning alcoholic drinks are acceptable, especially when there is a choice of 10 Bloody Marys that alone could be a meal (I went for the Mariner, with clam juice and vodka).
To start, we tried the Lower East Side Appetizer, with four different kinds of fish, rye bread, crackers, and an insane, INSANE horseradish butter that I only wish I had more of. That was followed by a fried oyster omelet with Worcestershire sauce – I have never had an oyster inside an omelet before, and it is an unlikely and delicious combination. The oyster was a perfect balance of crisp and chewy and went well with the perfectly cooked omelet that looked almost too beautiful to eat. My gal pal ordered the hearty Sausage & Oysters – we really love oysters – and had a clean plate.
When I eat at restaurants like Prune, my respect for women chefs quickly increases. It takes guts to work in a high-pressure industry and serve bold food with flavors that draw the likes of locals, tourists (although I pretend not to be), and celebrities (Sarah Silverman came that day to brunch as well). Prune serves as a reminder to all women to keep doing what needs doing. It will be ungainly and difficult, but in time, we will have our chances to do what we love and turn work into pleasure and fantastic restaurants like Prune.
The power of women.
54 #. 1st Street
New York, NY 10003
Open for brunch and dinner