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.

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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.

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