CHEF ANN COOPER – WHAT ARE YOU WRITING NOW?

Chef Ann Cooper is a celebrated author, chef, and educator. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY, Ann has been a chef for more than 30 years including positions with Holland America Cruises, Radisson Hotels, Telluride Ski Resort as well as serving as Executive Chef at the renowned Putney Inn in Vermont. She has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Tribune, Newsweek , and Time Magazine and has appeared on NPR’s ‘Living on Earth,’ ABC’s Nightline, CNN, PBS’ To The Contrary and the CBS Morning Show and many other media outlets. Ann has shared her knowledge and experience by speaking at the Smithsonian Institute, the National Restaurant Association, the Heifer Foundation, Chefs Collaborative, the International Association of Culinary Professionals and numerous conferences. She has been honored by SLOW Food USA, selected as a Kellogg Food and Society Policy Fellow, and awarded an honorary doctorate from SUNY Cobleskill for her work on sustainable agriculture.
Ann is the author of four books:

* Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children (2006)

*In Mother’s Kitchen: Celebrated Women Chefs Share Beloved Family Recipes (2005),

*Bitter Harvest: A Chef’s Perspective on the Hidden Dangers in the Foods We Eat and What You Can do About It (2000)

*A Woman’s Place is in the Kitchen: The Evolution of Women Chefs (1998).

She is past president of The American Culinary Federation of Central Vermont, and past president and board member of Women’s Chefs and Restaurateurs. She also served on the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Standards Board, a Congressional appointment, and was an Executive Committee member of Chefs Collaborative – all in an effort to raise awareness about the value of healthful, seasonal, organic, and regional foods.

I had the great opportunity to write a review of “A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE KITCHEN” for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 1998. As I was going over my notes—now twelve years later—I wondered what Chef Cooper had been doing in the interim. And I know and understand how, when you are researching one thought or idea, other topics start to jump out at you.

“A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE KITCHEN” may have a tongue-in-cheek kind of title but the subject matter, the evolution of women chefs, is worthy of our attention and provides a masterful history of women in the kitchen.

From the book jacket, we discover that author Ann Cooper has spent her life striving for culinary excellence. Since beginning her cooking career at age seventeen, Ann has risen through the ranks to become one of the finest female cooks with the Holland America Cruise Line and the first woman Executive Chef for the Radisson Hotel chain. Well, the wonder is that she ever found enough time to write a book—Ann Cooper is certainly an inspiration to us all!

“A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE KITCHEN” traces the history of women’s connection to food. Ann’s research spans more than 10,000 years of our culinary history. The publishers note, “A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE KITCHEN” explores the irony that while women are generally seen as the main food providers for most of the planet, they have been overwhelmingly unwelcome in the professional kitchens until only recently. This attitude is slowly melting away as old-fashioned ideologies about gender and the workplace are replaced by the reality that educated, strong-willed, passionate women, who know what’s in their hearts and are willing to work hard, can accomplish anything…”

“A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE KITCHEN” reveals why so many women have devoted themselves to the demanding and oftentimes harsh world of professional cooking. And who could be better suited to tell this story than Ann Cooper, a woman chef who has experienced much of this herself, firsthand?

“A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE KITCHEN” shares the experiences and personal stories of dozens of women chefs. In the Acknowledgements, Ann explains that over 130 women took time out of their busy schedules to be interviewed, then took more time to fill out paperwork and send pictures, recipes, ideas, and words of encouragement. In addition, over 1,000 women chefs and cooks took time to fill out a ten-page survey that Ann says can be likened to a college entrance exam.

For the historical research, Ann turned to the culinary archives and libraries at The Culinary Institute of America, Johnson and Wales Culinary Archives, Schlessinger Library, Williamstown Library, the National Museum of Women and the Arts, the National Restaurant Association and the American Culinary Federation. The research was done over a six month period and Ann reveals that she does not profess to be a historian “nor do I want the reader to feel that this historical material does any more than provide a basis for what we know about women in the kitchen today and in our recent history…”

The opening chapter of “A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE KITCHEN” traces the history of women in the kitchen from prehistoric times and provides an enlightening explanation as to why, although women developed the techniques and tools for cooking, men have previously dominated the professional field of cooking. A strong case is made for women being the actual discoverers of fire and how, in hunter-gatherer societies, women contributed four-fifths of the clan’s food. Ann Cooper also says that women may have also been the first wine makers and she explains how a transition from a matriarchal to patriarchal society at the beginning of the Christian calendar may explain the lack of historical data on women and food. “At that time in history,” Ann writes, “women weren’t encouraged to read or write, and hence, most history was being recorded by men—women were seen as slaves or chattel…”

How this role began to evolve and change in early America and started with Mother Ann Lee, the founder of an off-shoot of the Quakers, who became known as the Shakers. “In this culture,” Ann Cooper writes, “women did all the cooking, preserving, smoking, canning, farming, and gardening. Some culinary historians credit Shaker women with being the best cooks of their time…”

Ann also notes that “many black slave women made their mark on America’s early culinary history”. She quotes Jessica Harris, professor of English at Queens College and a culinary historian with a specialty in the foodways of Africa with Dr. Harris’ belief that much of our culinary heritage stems from the African slave trade. “A WOMAN’S PLACE IN THE KITCHEN” continues with tracing the changing role of women from the Industrial Era through the early 1900s and moves forward to Women and their Cookbooks. Ann acknowledges that although women were not the first writers of cookbooks, as a group we have been the most prolific.

She also notes that British women authored many of the first cookbooks.

“One of the earliest,” writes Ann, “written in 1604 by Elinor Fettiplaces, was called the Receipt Book which included 134 recipes…”

Ann lists in chronological order the various women in both England and the United States who authored early cookbooks, taking us through the 1700s into the 1800s. She writes, “Catherine Beecher was 100 years ahead of her time in 1846 when she wrote MISS BEECHER’S DOMESTIC RECEIPT BOOK which helped promote her ideas on women and food…” and notes that, during the late 1800s, two other culinary writing venues took shape, both of which have had a lasting effect on our written culinary heritage. “The first of these legacies,” she explains, “was the advent of cookbooks written to help support charitable causes. This phenomenon began with the end of the Civil War as a way of combating postwar poverty. To this day, women all over the country have sold cookbooks as a way to raise money for every imaginable cause…”

Ann Cooper says that “the second of these written culinary legacies is the woman’s magazine or journal. The late 1800s saw the rise of such newsstand icons as THE WOMAN’S HOME COMPANION, THE LADIES HOME JOURNAL and GOOD HOUSEKEEPING. These cornerstones of the homemaker’s kitchen have flourished for almost 200 years and were the predecessors of the culinary print media we know today…”

The roster of women cookbook authors continues through the 1800s and into the 1900s, observing that “the last of the authors from this era was Lizzie Black (Mrs. Simon Kander) who in 1901 published THE SETTLEMENT COOKBOOK. This book was self-published with funds raised by volunteers.

“The Settlement House” Ann explains, “was started in Milwaukee at the turn of the century as a place to indoctrinate European immigrants into the Amercan way of life. One of their projects was a cookbook to help the newly arrived better adjust to their new home….”

It was through advertisements that the cookbook earned enough money over the course of eight years to pay for a new settlement house building. (This was something I had never known and I don’t recall ever reading it anywhere else before).

Ann Cooper continues listing cookbook authors who have made indelible differences, such as Irma Rombauer, with her JOY OF COOKING. Ann Cooper also traces the establishment and success of women and their cooking schools and carries us forward to women working their way into the professional kitchen.

I’ve written extensively about these opening, introductory chapters of
“A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE KITCHEN” – and yet, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the book.

“A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE KITCHEN” is a most important contribution to women’s culinary history. It is wonderfully illustrated, often with old-timey covers from old cookbooks and magazines. If you are interested in our culinary heritage and learning about the evolution of women chefs today, this is the book for you. Included are short biographies of the women chefs’ featured in “A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE KITCHEN”, a glossary of terms to help us all better understand terminology in this field, and a women chefs’ recommended reading list There is also a sample list of women chefs and their restaurants throughout history, dating back to Antoines in New Orleans, in 1840 and moving forward to Square One in San Francisco, 1996.

“A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE KITCHEN” by Ann Cooper was published by Van Nostrand Reinhold in 1998. The book originally sold for $29.95. I did some random checking on internet book sites and found you can purchase A Woman’s Place is in the Kitchen for under a dollar, used, and new, from Amazon, for $7.18. ISBN 0-442-02370-7.

As so often happens when you are writing about one topic, other interesting subjects come to your attention and I think this is what happened when Ann was researching her first book, “A Woman’s Place is in the Kitchen”.

Many of us remember learning to cook at our mother’s feet. Recipes, tips and traditions were passed on as children were asked to stir the soup or help roll out the pastry dough during family meal preparation. While Chef Ann Cooper gathered information for her cookbooks, she heard numerous stories from other women chefs about their fond memories of cooking with their mothers and grandmothers.

Combining her emotional connection to these stories with her growing concerns over the lack of time families spend eating together these days, Cooper was inspired to write In Mother’s Kitchen: Celebrated Women Chefs Share Beloved Family Recipes co-authored by Lisa Holmes and published in 2005.

“One in every four meals is eaten in a fast food restaurant,” said Cooper, who quotes the same statistic for meals eaten in the car. “We’re growing a whole generation of kids who don’t know how to cook.”

Cooper, who learned to cook from her grandmothers, both first- or second-generation immigrants, became a chef out of her love for food, and giving and nurturing through food. She strongly believes that families need to slow down and take time to eat and prepare food together in order to carry on important sociological and cultural elements, as well as foster good health.
She encourages parents to simply bring their kids with them into the kitchen, whether it’s to help with a certain recipe or to prepare an entire meal. “There’s something very special about them helping in the kitchen,” she said. “I think wonderful things happen.” This was something I could strongly relate to. My mother turned me loose in the kitchen when I was 9 or 10 years old.
Cooper met many of the chefs who contributed to In Mother’s Kitchen while working on her other two cookbooks, A Woman’s Place is in the Kitchen: The Evolution of Women Chefs and Bitter Harvest: A Chef’s Perspective on the Hidden Dangers in the Foods We Eat. She was touched by the stories she compiled, such as Chicago chef Gale Gand’s story of teaching her son about his Grandma Myrna by preparing her pancake recipe every weekend. “The stories make me cry,” said Cooper.
The book is a compilation of not only stories such as these, but of wonderful, heirloom recipes from many different cultures and old photographs of young, smiling girls cooking with their moms. There are chapters on Mothers & Grandmothers, Daughters, Motherlands and even Remedies handed down through generations to heal common ailments.

Writing about our mothers’ and grandmothers’ kitchens and comfort foods appears to be an idea whose time had come. It is a subject so dear to my heart that I have collected enough books on the topic to fill several shelves which I will share with all of you another time.

In Mother’s Kitchen: Celebrated Women Chefs Share Beloved Family Recipes is available new for $29.95 but I have found it on Amazon for as little as one cent (you will always pay $3.99 shipping & handling on Amazon—but they are advertising both new and used copies for one cent. Jessica’s Biscuit has it listed at $29.95. It is available through Alibris.com for 99c (plus shipping).

Ann Cooper is a contemporary cookbook author whose books you will enjoy and want to add to your cookbook collection.

Happy cooking & Happy cookbook collecting!

–Review by Sandra Lee Smith

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