Oakland-Produced Podcast ‘Copper & Heat’ Wins a James Beard Award

Katy Osuna, a former cook at three-Michelin-starred Manresa, sheds light on issues of gender in fine dining kitchens.

“Be A Girl,” the first season of the Oakland-produced podcast Copper & Heat, took home an award last month for Best Podcast at the James Beard Media Awards in New York City. “Be A Girl” focuses on issues of gender in fine dining kitchens.

The team behind the podcast is Katy Osuna and her partner, Ricardo Osuna. Katy serves as the host and executive producer, while Ricardo is a producer, composer, and sound designer.

Katy’s been working in the restaurant industry since her senior year in college in Idaho, when she took a job at a gastropub. There, she was the only woman working in the kitchen. Eventually, she moved to California to attend culinary school, then went on to stage at Manresa, a fine dining restaurant in Los Gatos with three Michelin stars. When she started, she was the only woman working on the savory side of the kitchen. She worked her way up the ranks at Manresa, eventually becoming a chef de partie.

Having studied anthropology and sociology in college, during her time at Manresa, Katy often found herself thinking about the gender disparities in the restaurant industry at large. As the media started to call public attention to sexual harassment in fine dining kitchens as part of the Me Too movement, Katy found herself talking with her coworkers at Manresa about these topics. “It started these larger conversations around sexism, misogyny, patriarchy in general in the kitchen,” she said. In 2017, she left Manresa and started Copper & Heat.

The podcast offers an insider’s look into the structure of a fine dining kitchen and some of the forces behind why women are so underrepresented in fine dining kitchens. The podcast cites that women make up about half of food service employees in general (combining both front-of-house and back-of-house positions) and a little over 50 percent of students graduating from culinary school. In the back of the house, women make up 30 percent to 50 percent of the staff. But as you move up the ranks, women only make up 19 percent of chefs and 7 percent of head chefs. The podcast’s first episode, “Brigade,” explains the structure of the brigade system used in kitchens, which originated in France based on the hierarchy of a military brigade. The second episode, “Oddity,” discusses how traditionally feminine traits often aren’t valued in the kitchen. Throughout the season, Osuna provides her own perspective while including the voices of many other cooks — many of them her former coworkers at Manresa.

Because while gender and sexual harassment in the kitchen are becoming a more common topic among high-profile chefs, cooks are often left out of the conversation. That’s another key part of Copper & Heat‘s goal: to make sure the voices of cooks are heard.

“I just want cooks to start talking about some of this stuff more,” she said. “I think until the cooks, until it actually kind of seeps into the cooks, it’s not really going to change.”

Katy described her reaction to learning she had won a James Beard award as “complete disbelief.”

“We kind of applied on a whim,” she said. The James Beard Foundation’s decision this year to waive the fee for first-time submissions, Katy said, was a huge factor in their decision to apply.

Now the pair are working to expand the listener base and preparing material for Season 2. For the next season, they plan to focus on the finances and economics of being a cook.

To learn more about Copper & Heat, visit CopperAndHeat.com.

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