The ironic fact that the professional culinary world is largely male-dominated is the subject of James’ new, award-winning, critically acclaimed documentary A Fine Line, which will kick off an 11-stop Women’s History Month Tribute Tour with a screening at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park March 1.
The New York State premiere will honor one of the film’s stars, Emmy-award winning TV host Lidia Bastianich, who worked her way up through the wild and wooly New York City restaurant world to emerge as owner of multiple Italian restaurants, cookbook author, and all-around culinary guru.
Bastianich will be at the CIA signing copies of her recently released memoir, My American Dream, A Life of Love, Family and Food. Local chefs and restaurateurs will provide mouthwatering cuisine for a pre-screening food and wine reception at the Marriott Pavillion on the CIA campus.
The intense, competitive and hierarchical atmosphere in restaurant kitchens, dating back to Escoffier’s establishment of the military-inspired “Brigade de Cuisine” structure and infused with patriarchal assumptions, hasn’t stopped rockstars like Bastianich and Cat Cora. But James says the barriers are akin to those faced by women in science, tech, engineering, and math fields. “There are so many fields girls are good at and enjoy, but we buy into false narratives and deny ourselves,” she says. “No! Stick with the dream. There are ways.”
A Fine Line has been screened at Harvard as well as vocational schools and culinary programs, and James hopes young women—and men—will come away realizing that “life’s not a straight line, and failure breeds ultimate success.”
Things are changing as the problem becomes recognized and more women cook their way to the stratosphere, but James says she found that family leave, unequal access to capital and media bias are still the very real barriers she watched her mother battle. The documentary team has launched an Impact Campaign to raise awareness and help build gender-neutral models that can be scaled in the corporate food and hospitality industries.
“There are getting to be quite a few stories about women who start baking cookies for friends and family as a side thing and end up owning restaurants, getting James Beard recognition,” says James. “There could be so many more.”
So much more great food? Bring it on. Get your tickets for the celebratory New York state premiere of A Fine Line.