by Jarrah Hodge
In board gaming sometimes we talk about themes that seem “tacked on”. It’s what happens when a game designer makes a game and then decides to set it in, say, Ancient Egypt, even though it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the way the game is played.
And that’s kind of how last night’s episode of Top Chef Canada felt to me as well. As usual, I enjoyed most of the episode, but I thought the theme deserved a little critique.
(Alert: spoilers ahead)
For the elimination challenge, the chefs were paired off and asked to create hors d’ouevres for a baby shower for last season’s host Thea Andrews and current judge Shereen Arazam. Since one of the women is expecting a boy and the other expecting a girl, the chefs were tasked with creating a “girl dish” and a “boy dish” for each team.
This made no sense to me because food doesn’t innately appeal to someone based on gender. I watch a lot of cooking shows and though it may have happened, I’ve never seen a judge say they didn’t like a dish because it was “too masculine” or “too feminine”.
What gendered food preferences do exist are easily traced back to socialization: for example, some women feeling pressured to choose lighter food options because of concerns about weight, or men associating BBQ with masculinity because of the popular idea that it’s manly to be a hunter. But do you really think if you put a bowl of pink yogurt beside a plate of hot dogs in front of some infants, they’d choose based on what sex they were born?
To give the show credit, it didn’t tell chefs how to interpret their gender assignment. The judges just asked chefs to explain how their dishes fit into the gender binary. But most teams stuck to a predictable divide: meaty, salty, and/or blue things for boys vs. sweeter, lighter and/or pink things for girls.
Two teams made maple bacon donuts for the boys, which reminded me of Butch Bakery, a business that sprang up a couple of years ago with a mission of making “manly cupcakes for manly men”. I gotta say I love the idea of bacon on a maple donut and don’t see how that makes me any less feminine.
Another team made an hors d’ouevre on a pink chip for a girl and a blue chip for a boy. The judges noted the one on the pink chip was good for a girl because it was light and small. Similarly, the winning dish was a pink macaron “girs dish” (paired with a steak bite for the “boy dish”). Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have cute food at a baby shower. I thought the macarons were adorable and would’ve loved to try one. I just think the premise of “girl dishes” and “boy dishes” needs to be questioned.
Take the whole pink and blue thing. As I pointed out in a previous post, assigning pink to girls and blue to boys is a relatively recent historical invention. Before the early twentieth century, pretty much all infants wore white frocks. When colours started to be an issue, there was huge debate, with some seeing pink as the more masculine colour because red was more associated with strength.
In spite of my quibbling with this week’s episode, I’m still looking forward to next week’s Top Chef Canada. I’m just hoping the theme is less tacked-on.
(photo by Mike McCune via Wikimedia Commons)