Don't bother asking chef Jamie Malone of Sea Change what it's like to be a girl in the kitchen. She won't answer. Instead, refer to the piece she recently published on Esquire's new food blog, "The Spill," in which she addresses issues of gender inequality in the kitchen. "I work as hard as I can and rarely have time to contemplate how owning a vagina makes me a minority in the kitchen," she writes.
As Sea Change's chef de cuisine and one of Food & Wine's Ten Best New Chefs of America, Malone has nothing to prove. She works hard, makes damn good food, and doesn't need a penis to compete with the best.
Hot Dish caught up with Malone on Thursday to touch base about her Esquire piece, trace her food industry history, and get a glimpse into her daily life.
Hot Dish: Did Esquire approach you or did you approach them about writing the "Food Industry Gender Inequality" piece?
Chef Jamie Malone: They approached me. They just started a new section of their blog called "The Spill," so they just have chefs and different people involved in food writing essays and stuff like that. They approached me and said "just write about something controversial."
Was this an issue you'd been mulling over for some time?
Not really mulling, [it was] just kind of in the back of my mind. It's not like I spend a ton of time thinking about it or anything, but it was definitely the first thing that popped into my mind.
Do interviewers often ask you what it's like to be a female chef?
What is your response to that?
Usually I just say there's not an answer to that question because the skill set to running a kitchen is so broad that what do you say? I don't know. It's great. It works for me. It works for all the girls in my kitchen.
Do you think they're expecting there to be some big difference between men and women in the kitchen?
Yeah, like "what struggles have you gone through," and "kitchens are so male dominated." I grew up in a neighborhood where it was all boys. I was a total tomboy. So personally, I've never been aware of the fact that I'm a girl, you know? I mean, I am, obviously, but it's never been a personal issue for me. Not to say it's not for other people. I'm positive that it is.
Do you feel like that question takes away from what you're doing?
Yeah, a little! I mean, that's the smallest part of the challenge of my job, you know what I mean? There's so much more to what we do than the gender topic.
In your ideal world, would gender be a non-issue?
No, because we are different, so I can't say that. Everyone's different -- gender, personality, backgrounds, work ethics, work style. It's just part of it. It's one small part of a lot of stuff that's going on.
What was your writing process for the piece?
I had one day, so I didn't have a lot of time, but usually I just plan a day to sit around and drink coffee and write down all my thoughts. I'm not a writer. I just gather all my thoughts and try to organize them in some way that makes sense.
Did Esquire say anything about why they approached you specifically?
I think because they were expecting me to write about sustainable seafood.
What's the response been like so far?
A lot of my friends have read it and liked it. I didn't know if people would read it topically and mistake what I was saying and be upset by it. I was not worried, but was kind of expecting some backlash. But I didn't get any. Just postive feedback.
Can we go back in time a little bit? How did you get your start?
After high school, I owned a bead store with my sister. We had two stores. There was one in Woodbury and one in White Bear Lake. I really liked doing it. I liked managing the team and managing the stores, but retail was just kind of wearing on me. I was thinking what I always did in my free time was cook with my, at the time, husband.
How old were you then?
Did you have any background in cooking? Did your parents cook with you as a kid?
My dad cooked a ton. I had worked in restaurants since I was 16 and just absolutely loved [them].
What were some of those?
My first job, I was 16, was at a place called the Shore Club. And then I worked at Chili's for a little while, which was pretty cool. But yeah, always front of the house.
Where did you go to culinary school?
Le Cordon Bleu in Mendota Heights
What did you do after that?
I interned at La Belle Vie, so that's where I started working for Tim [McKee], who obviously I still work for here. After La Belle Vie, I went to Porter & Frye because they were just opening and then, when Tim and Bill [Fairbanks] were ready to open Barrio, I did that with them.
How long have you been with Sea Change?
Actually since we opened. I was a line cook when we opened and I did one brief little stint to open the Edina Barrio and then Erik [Anderson] left and I came back here as a sous chef. I think it's been three years.
Do you live with Erik?
Yeah. He just moved in in January. We've been really close friends ever since he left -- we've always been close friends since Porter & Frye, but yeah, became romantic this last summer and now he lives with me.
Do you guys cook together a lot?
Not a ton, but yeah, once in a while.
Do you stay away from seafood?
No. We had this really crazy night a couple months ago. We had these super nice clams and we were like, "Oh, we'll make clam pizza!" It was a really late night and I got home at midnight and we were both really tired, but we were like "We're gonna make this pizza." We started the kitchen on fire. We have three dogs and a tiny apartment and the kitchen started on fire and the dogs were going bananas and then Erik goes to stand on this couch to open the window and it's this couch I have from 1960 -- it's this super cool, mid-century leopard print couch -- he stands on it, and it collapses. But we still cook at home.
How did you put the fire out? Was it big?
It was just an oven fire. I patted it out and then the pizza ended up being this pile of dough.
Did you eat it?
Yeah, it was pretty good. But it was a total failure.
What's Erik up to now?
He's been doing some pop-ups around the city and he's looking for spaces to do his own thing.
How many days off do you get per week?
One or two.
What do you like to do when you're not here?
Go to the dog park. This weekend we went looking for mushrooms. Yoga, I do yoga a lot. I'm kind of a homebody.