CultureFood A Fresh Wave Of Female Dominance In The Culinary Industry Through ‘The Bear’s’ Sydney Adamu

A Fresh Wave Of Female Dominance In The Culinary Industry Through ‘The Bear’s’ Sydney Adamu

With Sydney Adamu we get to see a female chef, who is a professional in a space that women are not usually acknowledged in or compensated for.
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A young girl toils in the kitchen, beads of sweat rolling down her temples as she stands in front of the stove. She multitasks, chopping, frying, plating, keeping her station clean and eats last once everyone else is done. Who is she? Just another woman in the kitchen. 

It is much too often that we take women for granted in the kitchens in our homes, but not so much in the kitchens that we frequent outside. Traditional gender roles and responsibilities dictate women’s domestic duties which is why women’s cooking is usually seen as a submissive and nurturing role. Due to the long working hours and social perceptions, the hospitality and culinary industry is dominated by males as it requires a more cutthroat, physically demanding attitude. 

Tang Yee and Watson Baldwin (2019) interviewed five female chefs at the peak of their careers in their research in Hong Kong. The research results show that female chefs in business life demonstrate that they face barriers such as physical ability, gender discrimination, fewer opportunities for learning and promotion, and work-family conflicts.

And this is where Sydney comes in.

Sydney as a woman in the kitchen

Meet Sydney Adamu. A young Nigerian-American woman, ambitious and skilled, and more importantly dedicated to her career in the Culinary Arts. She is the deuteragonist in ‘The Bear,’ a hit FX show that follows an accomplished, slightly neurotic chef, Carmy, who struggles to run his family sandwich restaurant after the death of his brother. His new world is poles apart from the fine dining and perfection that he is used to and so he hires Sydney, who is very much over-accomplished for the job, to stage at ‘The Original Beef of Chicagoland.’

Source: Fx/Hulu

Carmy, who is an insensitive and psychotic boss, throws her into the deep end, making her sous chef and dumping her with administrative and managerial duties. On the other hand, the rest of the chefs shun her for her high-quality training and education, making her feel like an outcast.

There are many ways Syd could have handled this. She could have gotten upset with Carmy. She could have gotten angry with her coworkers, who she was superior to. Or, she could have just quit. Instead, she pushes through, taking on the challenges that Carmy piles onto her, befriends her fellow chefs, and is even particularly brave in defying Carmy to debut her new dish at the restaurant. She is confident in her ideas, she speaks up and she calls out Carmy on his crap. She fumbles, but at the end of the day what drives her, is her ambition, which is not a trait typically assigned to women in the kitchen, or any women for that matter.

By the end of season 1, she has gained the respect of all her colleagues especially Carmy, who very truly treats her as an equal, in a professional manner. It is a positive and refreshing change to see an equal, platonic partnership between a man and a woman on television. Sure enough, they have their challenges and struggles, which is essential in adding to the drama and tension of any good TV show, but it is not about a romantic relationship or dramedy stereotypes.

Sydney as an enterprising leader 

As we delve deeper into the show, Sydney and Carmy decide to open up a new restaurant together, as business partners and chefs. Syd takes on the role of Chef de cuisine, making another female colleague, Tina, her sous chef. She is determined to make this project a success and dives into it headfirst, working hard at developing recipes and urging Carmy to work efficiently as partners. 

Source: FX/Hulu

Perhaps one of the most beautiful and poignant scenes of the show is Sydney’s solo ‘palate cleansing,’ date as she seeks inspiration for new dishes after Carmy has conveniently ditched her. Her determination and commitment to her work is so apparent in the way she combs through various delectable cuisines and eateries across Chicago. As Carmy continues to flake on her, shirking many of his responsibilities, she powers through and successfully gets through their first debut night without his help. Her character is unique, an uncommon portrayal of women, who might perhaps remind of only one other similar female character, ‘Colette,’ from Ratatouille, who labelled herself as the ‘toughest cook in the kitchen,’ despite being the only female in the male-dominated space of haute cuisine.

Sydney comes a long way from the first episode of ‘The Bear,’ using her strengths of organisation and adaptability to survive and even thrive in the kitchen. In the recent release of Season 3, we can hope to see a lot more of Sydney dominating the kitchen space.

The unpaid labour of women

According to India’s first National Time Use Survey (2019), it was found that the average rural woman spends 207 minutes a day and an average urban woman spends 199 minutes a day on ‘food and meals management and preparation,’ with solely cooking taking up more than 3 hours a day in an average Indian woman’s life. This burden of unpaid labour often hinders a woman’s progress in actual paid employment. This brings us to the question of, should domestic work be remunerated. Does this lighten the load on the female population, or does it further reinforce gender roles and responsibilities in society?

Source: FX/Hulu

With Sydney Adamu, we get to see a female chef, who is a professional in a space that women are not usually acknowledged in or compensated for. She gains recognition for her work and respect from her colleagues.

Perhaps this is maybe what some women want, keeping financial aspects aside. The appreciation and respect for what they do, the support from partners/ spouses and maybe an occasional break so she can enjoy a meal that someone else has cooked. 



  1. Jonathan Braganza says:

    Great read!

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