Chloe St-Cyr the chef earned her chops across the globe. From studying at Québec’s Hôtelière Des Laurentides and working at high-end eateries in the province, to cooking alongside Michelin-starred chefs in several five-star hotel properties in Dubai, the 25-year-old has already won awards, including Taste New Zealand 2015, and placed third in Emirates Salon Culinaire’s Young Chef of the Year 2015 competition.
Yet even in that short space of time, St-Cyr kept bumping up against the systemic sexist behavior so prevalent in the culinary industry. In addition to hearing a chef refer to the kitchen brigade as "the boys," St-Cyr tells Fast Company, "People think they are paying me a compliment by telling me that I work like a man." It’s even baked into (pardon the pun) the uniforms. St-Cyr observes, "It is almost impossible to find a chef’s jacket tailored for someone with boobs."
"Not one of them is particularly awful," she notes, "but when they started to add up is when I realized how much of a man’s world the culinary industry actually can be."
The industry doesn’t typically reward female talent, either. The most recent report from Glassdoor on the gender wage gap found that chefs are second only to computer programmers, with a nearly 30% difference between what women earn compared to men in the industry.
"I strongly believe only the talent of the individual chef and the market should dictate your paycheck—not your gender, age, or looks," says St-Cyr, crediting her upbringing for her stance on equality. "I was raised in a family where I learned that women can achieve as much as men, no questions asked," she says.
So St-Cyr took matters into her own hands. In December 2015 she started MiumMium, a community marketplace for on-demand chefs. It allows individuals to hire qualified kitchen talent to cook in their homes or event venues for private dinners or special occasions.
She’s not the first to launch a hiring platform for on-demand personal chefs. Among them: Kitchensurfing dispatches chefs in the New York City area, and La Belle Assiette has about 700 chefs working in six European countries.
But her model differs in a significant way: St-Cyr is trying to chip away at gender imbalance and democratize the culinary arts both for chefs and diners. Chefs are not asked to state whether they are male or female upon registration for the marketplace. This is also to protect LGBT chefs from any discrimination.
"The goal is not only to get women the same pay level as a man, but to help all of my fellow chefs and cooks to make ends meet," she says. With MiumMium, a chef who earns $15 to $20 an hour at their regular job can drastically increase their standard of living by serving one or two MiumMium meals per week, St-Cyr explains.
To do this, St-Cyr gave chefs control of their menus and their prices. "If the menu is interesting and well-priced, clients will come," she explains. "As demand for that chef increases, they will have the liberty to increase their price. This is how the cream rises to the top, genders become irrelevant, which is how it should be," St-Cyr says.
MiumMium scaled quickly since its debut with more than 10,600 chefs registered and catering to locations in North and South America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Asia.
Right now, the average MiumMium dinner is about $55 per person, which includes the chef, the food, the transportation, the cooking, the service, and the taxes. "Only gratuities, which are never requested, are discretionary," she notes. MiumMium takes 9.09% of each total meal cost as their portion, and the chefs keep the rest.
She also notes that chefs are equitably promoted on the platform. The homepage is updated daily to showcase the most recent menus, regardless of chef or location.
Setting prices for services is where things get a little tricky. At MiumMium, St-Cyr says supply and demand are taken into consideration. Some menu options may be hard to find in some areas, so the chef can up their cost. Or, like Uber’s surge pricing, some chefs may ask for more depending on the timing. Experience like working for celebrity clients can also drive up the cost.
But there’s a that goes beyond fair compensation for talent. In a competitive market, the lowest price will often win the day. That’s good news for women, who generally expect to be paid $14,000 less than a man in the same role. But set the cost too low, and customers might wonder why it’s so cheap.
Even though there is no confirmed data as to how many male versus female chefs are getting work through MiumMium, St-Cyr is convinced that equality will win the day. "I don’t measure success on genders, I measure success at our partners’ level by increasing payout to the chefs overall," she explains. "Success will be achieved when all of our chefs get regular bookings through MiumMium, whatever their race, gender, or sexual orientation."