Angie Mar on Meat, #MeToo, and Whether the Restaurant Industry Can Save Itself
Angie Mar is a force to be reckoned with. At just 35, she is the owner and chef of The Beatrice Inn, one of New York's most beloved glamorous dining destinations where she cooks up show-stopping, almost theatrically large cuts of meat. Mar has quickly become one of the leading voices in food, garnering widespread praise (including a glowing New York Times review), for her unapologetic approach to cooking.
She is equally relentless when it comes to fostering a positive work environment in her kitchen. It's no secret that professional kitchens can be a frequently toxic work environment, requiring people to deal with insane hours, high pressure, and unfortunately in many cases sexism and sexual harassment. A recent torrent of allegations against a number of high-profile male chefs has brought the latter aspect to the forefront of conversation. So, in the midst of Women's History Month, Thrillist sat down with Mar talk about what it's like to be a female in the culinary world, and how the restaurant world can change for the better.
Thrillist: You have mentioned before that you hate the term "female chef." Why is that?
Mar: When I started cooking, I didn't want to cook and be known as a "female chef," I just wanted to be a chef. And that's it. And I think at the end of the day, food is the great equalizer. I think that food should be genderless, I think that food should be raceless. I think that food should have nothing to do with religion. And for me what is important, especially at this time in my career, is that I want to have a seat at the table because of the food I put out. Not because of my race, not because of my gender, but because of the quality, and my work ethic. I don't want to be a token.
Do you think people have certain expectations of you in the kitchen because of your gender?
Mar: When I first started cooking, everybody was like, "Oh, what is it like to be a woman who deals with meat?" And I'm like "what are you talking about?" This is just the food that I like to eat. I cook the food that I like to eat, and that's it. What were people expecting? Were they were expecting for me to make cinnamon rolls and cupcakes? That's not who I am. I grew up eating meat. It's what I love, it's what I crave. I've never made any decisions for my career based off of what anyone else expects. I make decisions on my career and what I cook based off of what I like and what I support. And for me, meat just happens to be what I want to eat. It happens to be what interests me in cooking.
It is nuts how much gendering there still is in food.
Mar: The genderization of food, that has to do with what society expects women to be and men to be, it's gotta stop. It's gotta stop! Like, it's 2018, it's gotta stop!
Agreed. Regardless of gender, professional kitchens are arguably one of the toughest environments to work in. How do you keep things positive in yours?
Mar: Mentorship. I make sure to spend a lot of time in my kitchen. When I was coming up, I worked for a lot of chefs that -- I admired them so much. I wanted to learn from them. And my problem was that, I would go work for them but they were never in the kitchen. And taking from that and saying, "OK, what did I miss as a young cook? What would I have wanted more of?" Then taking those experiences and changing them over in my own kitchen to make sure that none of my guys ever experience what I experienced. They're here for a reason. They're here to work for me, they're here to learn from me and for us to all learn together.
Is there anything that is unacceptable in your kitchen?
Mar: I have zero tolerance for disrespect in the kitchen. We are very militaristic. We are very disciplined. So I think that the discipline is something that's very important to me. Because I feel like in this industry you have to have it. We have to have it in order to really succeed. But also integrity. I think if there's no integrity, that destroys everything.
Yeah, disrespect and integrity are at the forefront of conversations around the food world right now, with all of the news about rampant sexual harassment in the industry.
Mar: While I've never actually experienced a lot of the things that are now kind of the highlight of our media, I know that the sexual harassment exists. I know that the glass ceiling for a lot of women exists. And I support all of the women and men who have been courageous enough to come out and talk about their experiences because we need to hold people accountable -- 110%. We have to hold people accountable.
Why do you think it has taken so long for these conversations to happen? Sexual harassment has existed unchecked in the industry for years.
Mar: Well, it's not just this industry. This is across all industries. When we talk about this specific problem of sexual harassment and abuse, we're not just talking about the restaurant industry. You're talking about a huge socioeconomic issue in our country, not only our country but just as a culture. And that's just been ingrained in us. I don't believe that it's just this industry, we're talking about the lack of gender equality now. That's what we're actually talking about.
I think Hollywood and the whole #MeToo movement has been fantastic for this conversation. It has helped open the conversation within the culinary industry. I think it's important to recognize that yes, this is going on, and yes, we need to make changes in order to stop it.
Do you think change will actually happen?
Mar: I am hopeful. I think that where we are right now in the state of the union is, my hope is that we are taking a step forward. That it's come to a head and we are as a society ready to really make the changes that we need to make, because at the end of the day, I don't want to be sitting around a table having this same interview in 10 years.
How do you think we can ensure that we aren't having the same conversations 10 years from now?
Mar: I do very much believe that that starts with mentorship, and it starts with the cultivation of the new faces of this industry. That's really the direction that I think things need to go. I think what is truly important is what we're doing now to secure the next generation of culinary industry leaders in their stability and their future and how they're mentoring the next generation after them. That is tremendously important to me. And that's where I really think that change will happen.
You own your restaurant. Do you think more women owning their restaurants probably would help too?
Mar: Absolutely. Do I want to see more women owning and running their own kitchens and being owners? 110%. But just because they're women does not mean that they're going to instill the right culture. So what I think the big shift needs to happen is how we all at this level, at the ownership level, how we are creating, what cultures are we creating, who are we fostering. I think women, yes, 100% we need more opportunities. We need to be supportive of each other. We need to bring each other up. But we also need to bring some really amazing men up as well.
Do you think it's on women and people like you -- women who are running kitchens, women who are running positive kitchens -- to help fix the industry? Is that burden supposed to be on your shoulders?
Mar: I don't think of it as a burden. I just think it's the right thing to do. Whether all this stuff was going on in the industry or not, I would still be doing what I'm doing. I've been doing what I've been doing. I was doing that when I took over this kitchen five years ago. So I don't think that our actions, the way we run our kitchen should be reactionary. It's just the right thing to do.
What about the role of men in the industry?
Mar: Men are an integral part of changing this culture. Especially in the restaurant industry, because in this echelon of restaurants, this upper echelon that I play in, that The Beatrice Inn is in, women represent maybe 18-20% of the workforce. So, given that percentage, and given the fact that if we represent 18-20% in this echelon of restaurants, what about the other 80%?
If 20% of us can do this right, we're never going to succeed unless we get the other 80% on the same plane. And that's how you really make change, is having a full, all-inclusive type of change. There can't be a line drawn in the sand.
Right, change can't happen unless we get every person on board.
Mar: There's that old phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child." I also believe it takes a village to raise a restaurant. And I'm living it now. You know what I mean? This restaurant is not successful because of me. This restaurant is successful because of my entire team that has put in the work, that has put in the blood, sweat, and tears. It is successful because of the team, not because of me. And that needs to be said.
So until restaurants change for the better, what should diners do? Should they still visit restaurants like the Spotted Pig, which is owned by those accused of sexual harassment?
Mar: It's a very tricky question, because there is a staff that still works [at these restaurants]. I don't think that we should support these places. I think that even if the food is great, you've glossed over the fact that atrocious things have happened. It's a very loaded question. I really don't think we should support it in any way shape or form. I don't.
Finally, do you think these chefs who are accused of sexual harassment can ever redeem themselves? Do they deserve second chances?
Mar: You know, I hope so? I'm very much an optimist and I like to believe that people can change. I don't know a lot of these people personally, but what I do know is that I do believe that people can change. The optimist in me says that I think that if they can change then there should be a second chance, because isn't that what life is about? Is growth and second chances? Even thirds? I don't know. But I do believe that people can change -- 100%.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.