Break the Rules Like ... Katy Osuna

Not all Wonder Women wear capes, and not all Unladylike role models need to sit in the C-suite to spark change. We want to introduce y'all to rad women and nonbinary folks we admire. They'll offer up pointers on how we all can #breaktheruleslike they do and help them make the world a better place. If you have a role model to shout out, send hot tips to hello@unladylike.co. 

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1. Introduce yourself: Who are you, where are you from and what do you do?

My name is Katy Osuna, and I’m the co-creator and executive producer of Copper & Heat, a podcast that challenges the exclusionary systems of power that cooks and chefs have upheld for generations. Our first season, “Be a Girl,” is about my experience as a cook (and a woman) working in Michelin-starred kitchens in the San Francisco Bay Area. In this season, I question the long-standing traditions of masculinity in kitchens and speak with my coworkers, friends, and notable chefs about the gender bias in the industry and what we can do to make it a more inclusive place to work. I’m very excited to say that this year we won a James Beard Media Award for “Be a Girl” having only launched the podcast last year in 2018.

2. When did you first realize this was the right path for you?

It’s honestly still a struggle. As a woman and a cook, I’ve been socialized to really hate drawing attention to myself. Stepping out of the kitchen and into media is rough. But while producing our first season, I had a lot of conversations with friends, coworkers and even strangers on the internet. Through these conversations, I heard so many other women who work in kitchens saying that they finally felt seen. They are the reason I keep doing what I’m doing, especially in the audio/podcast medium. I think it’s so powerful to be able to not only have these conversations and hear these stories, but to be able to share them literally all over the world in an accessible way.

3. What’s unladylike about you and what you do?

Being a cook in a restaurant is super “unladylike,” which is so fucked up since women have traditionally been the ones cooking at home (and are so often the ones that “inspire” famous male chefs). I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been working in the kitchen and a male cook is shocked and confused that I’m there and not doing pastry (for those who don’t know, a common theme in the industry is to pigeonhole women into working as pastry cooks and chefs). I’ve had male cooks say I’m hot because I’m “not like other girls,” and they’ve made sarcastic comments about how they had no idea a woman could command the grill station.

4. Which of your heroes or role models would you immortalize in bronze?

Samin Nosrat, writer and host of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (both the book and the Netflix series)! She’s literally revolutionized the way so many people cook, as well as how food TV is done. In her book, she teaches how to cook, rather than just providing a bunch of recipes. She breaks down all the science of cooking in such an approachable way with really awesome illustrations. She also is using her new-found platform to raise up the voices of marginalized people working in and out of kitchens. She’s very open about her struggles with mental health and as a woman of color in the spotlight.

5. What was your feminist aha moment?

I feel like I constantly have little aha moments, but I think the very first one was as a freshman in college. I was trying really hard to be a “good feminist.” I already loved cooking then, but wasn’t working in restaurants yet. I posted a Facebook status about feeling like I was “unraveling years of feminist movements” by spending all day in the kitchen. But my friend Kalee commented on the status and said, “You do what you want. That’s the point.”

It’s been years since this little interaction, and yet I still remember it because it shifted my whole perspective of what being a feminist means. And I think that’s why I’ve really loved having some of these conversations with my coworkers. It’s about allowing people, whatever their background and experience, to be exactly who they are in kitchens and not have to deal with the bullshit that stems from a really traditionally masculine and toxic environment.

6. What’s the best advice you’ve received? The worst?

The best: One of my chefs in culinary school (a stern, but kindhearted German man) very adamantly lectured my class on not undervaluing ourselves and the work that we do. Going into the culinary industry, cooks are dramatically underpaid, and the way you get in the door somewhere is by staging (a French term that means apprenticing ... or working for no pay), which was my first experience outside of culinary school. Chef Udo really did not like that. He told me to value myself and the work that I do. I think a lot of women have been socialized to not ask for what we deserve and to think that we don’t deserve what we have, so Chef Udo’s advice has become a life mantra and something I have to work on constantly.

The worst: When I got married, I was having lots of thoughts about whether or not to change my last name. I was talking to my friend about it at work one day, and the chef (middle-aged white man) interrupted our private conversation to give his unsolicited advice: “I think it’s really disrespectful to not take your husband’s last name.”

Fuck that. Fortunately, my partner is not an asshole, and he didn’t care whether I changed my name or not. I spoke with many of my friends and family when making the choice, and they all asserted that the decision was ultimately mine and mine alone. The only person in my life who offered any “advice” on the subject was that chef.

7. What’s bringing you joy right now — or at least keeping you sane?

For the longest time I’ve had this aversion to going on Reddit because I always hear about the terrible things that happen there. But I’ve been on there as @copperandheat and interacting with specifically the ChefIt subreddit. And — my god — it has been one of the most wonderful experiences. The community of cooks there is wonderfully insightful and supportive and questioning so many of the shitty traditions in kitchens. It brings me a lot of joy to see that kind of community.

Also, cats. Especially this video that makes me dissolve into hysterics every time I watch it (with the sound on — WAIT FOR THE DROP).

8. Aside from keys/wallet/phone, what do you never leave home without?

I really hate carrying purses, so I don’t leave the house with anything more than bare necessities. My wallet is also my phone case, and it’s stuffed full with the cards I always might need — like my frequent buyer cards at the local cat cafe (KitTea) and a local bookstore (Omnivore Books on Food) dedicated to cookbooks and anything food-related.

9. How can unladies help you and/or your mission?

  1. Listen, share and review Copper & Heat! We need to increase our listenership before we can get paid for what we do (through ads and sponsorship).

  2. If you know people who run food-related businesses that would like to advertise on podcasts, hit me up.

  3. If you work in restaurants, start some conversations of your own. It’s hard and uncomfortable, but so necessary to make kitchens a more equitable place for everyone.

  4. If you eat out (I KNOW YOU DO), seriously consider where you’re spending your dollars. Research who’s doing things right for their team and where your food comes from. We have a few resources for that listed on our website.