It’s the men who remain in the majority as far as top chefs are concerned. Debbi Christophers investigates the battle of the sexes in the kitchen.
The battle of the sexes
Despite recent efforts by the hospitality industry to make working practices more family friendly, the fact remains that the majority of top chefs are still men. According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2016 less than 20% of chefs were women – a surprising decrease on the previous year.
This gender imbalance is borne out on TV’s Masterchef: The Professionals, where the solitary female in each round sticks out like a sore thumb and women (and men, probably) across the land are willing them to get through.
Yet the opposite is true in the realms of home cooking where women still do the vast majority of meal preparation, 70pc according to 2014’s Global Trends Survey, which perhaps explains the fact that women outnumber men on the Bake Off and the male/female split on the amateur Masterchef is fairly even.
I should confess at this point that in my house the other half is very much the principal cook, so I am aware that I am making sweeping generalisations here.
Nonetheless, loathe as I am to
resort to gender stereotypes, I can’t help but think that this imbalance is because while men tend towards the more swaggery, show-offy type of cooking, all sous vide machines, foams and gels, women typically prefer a more nurturing, simpler style of cooking.
Men like to be seen as chefs, while women, by and large, are cooks. Lone rangers such as Angela Hartnett and Clare Smyth notwithstanding, the majority of women cooking on our TV screens would never describe themselves as chefs. Step forward Delia Smith, Nigella Lawson and, of course, the goddess that is Mary Berry.
So in this month of both Mother’s Day and International Women’s Day, I want to celebrate the everyday home cook.
The unsung heroines of the kitchen turn out meals day in day out without the need for fuss, fanfare or fancy gadgets. It’s often said that life’s too short to stuff a mushroom. I say that kitchens are too small to house a dehydrator.
When I was young my mum held down two jobs, but she still managed, mostly, to put food on the table. Not fancy, not expensive, but homely and wholesome. Working on a tight budget, she often resorted to tins to bulk up dishes and packets to whip up a quick dessert. Angel Delight anyone? This was food to nourish and to nurture. Food that reminds me of home. Thanks Mum. This one’s for you.
Corned Beef Curry
Many of my mum’s most memorable creations featured a can of baked beans – pork belly casserole, lamb chop surprise and corned beef curry – all included a generous portion of Heinz finest. In my version of the latter dish, baked beans are necessarily absent as my partner views them as the devil’s work and has banned them from the house. An extreme reaction, but there you go.
My mum would also have served it with chips, which let’s face it, was par for the course in the 1970s when a chip pan was a permanent feature on the hob, but instead I have added potatoes into the curry, along with fresh chillis and coriander, which would have been unheard of in Torquay in 1977.
Finally, I’ve added a fried egg on top, because let’s face it, there are few things that can’t be improved by the addition of a fried egg!
Ingredients (serves two hungry people)
1 large potato Vegetable oil 1 small onion, finely chopped 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped 1 red chilli, finely chopped 1 tsp curry powder ½ tsp cumin 340g corned beef (ie a standard tin) 150ml chicken stock 200g tinned tomatoes or passata 2 eggs Fresh coriander Unlike most curries, this doesn’t require long, slow cooking and can be ready in about the time it takes to cook some rice.
First, peel and dice the potato and place in a pan of boiling water to cook for around 10 minutes or until a knife goes in easily. Set aside.
Heat around a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan and add the onion, garlic and chilli and cook gently for five minutes or so. Add the curry powder and cumin and cook out for a minute. You can vary the spices depending on what you have, but there’s no need to get too complicated about it. Curry powder on its own will do the job, but I particularly like cumin, so add a bit extra.
Dice the corned beef roughly and add to the pan along with chicken stock and tomatoes. Turn the heat down and put a lid on. Let it all cook down together for around 10 minutes, then add the diced potatoes and cook for a further five minutes. Taste for seasoning, but be careful as some varieties of corned beef can already be pretty salty.
Once you’re happy with it, heat up another pan and fry a couple of eggs. Serve the curry with some rice and sit the egg on top. Garnish with fresh coriander and the rest of the chopped chilli – depending on how hot you like it.
A cold beer or a dry but slightly fruity white wine would go well alongside.
CORNED BEEF: Above, the original tin and right, Debbi’s corned beef curry.