'The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution': Film Review | Hot Docs 2018

Courtesy of Hot Docs Festival
Timely and affecting, if a bit scattershot.

Maya Gallus' documentary profiles seven female chefs facing daunting professional obstacles.

Chefs are treated like the culinary equivalent of rock stars in today's pop culture. And like rock stars, too many of them are male. Maya Gallus' documentary puts a much-needed spotlight on a gallery of female chefs attempting to rise to the top of an industry that has been dominated by men for far too long. Chronicling the personal and professional struggles faced by these women working under often toxic conditions, The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution served as a timely opening-night offering of Toronto's Hot Docs festival even if it didn't always live up to its thematic aspirations.

The Canadian filmmaker, who previously dealt with the outside staff of restaurants in her 2010 documentary Dish: Women, Waitressing & the Art of Service, here profiles seven notable female chefs working in New York City, London and Toronto. Each of them describes the difficulties of attempting to crack the "boys' club" that is the restaurant industry, one in which male chefs are glorified for being obnoxious (Gordon Ramsay being the prime example) and women chefs fall under the heading of "difficult." More importantly, female chefs face much greater obstacles when it comes to procuring the funding necessary to open a quality restaurant.

Suzanne Barr exemplifies the travails often faced by women in the industry. She's seen running her cozy Toronto restaurant Saturday Dinette while simultaneously raising her young son, who spends as much time there as he does at home. Despite her restaurant's success, Barr is forced to close it and open an even smaller one after experiencing problems with her landlord.

Several of the women relate stories of harassment in the kitchen, including Ivy Knight, who describes being viciously attacked by the male chef for whom she was working. When she reported the matter to their bosses, they told her to "suck it up." On the other hand, chef Charlotte Langley says that she fell into similar patterns of abusive behavior when she took charge of a kitchen, taking pleasure from the "harem" of younger men working for her. "I realized I'm also part of the problem," she admits.

The women often take pride in running kitchens marked by calm and quiet, unlike many male chefs who thrive on bullying and yelling at their employees. French chef Anne-Sophie Pic acknowledges the maternal aspects of her approach. "A restaurant is a way to show people that we love them," she comments.

The film also features more unconventional subjects, such as one freelance cook who lacks the financial means to open her own restaurant and operates a series of highly popular "pop-up meals" at people's homes instead.

Much like restaurant-goers, viewers may have reservations about The Heat: A Kitchen (R)evolution. The film suffers from a lack of focus, with Gallus flitting from subject to subject and not handling her themes in sufficiently cohesive manner. As a result, the whole feels like less than the sum of its parts, resembling a series of appetizers instead of a main dish. But it offers many valuable insights along the way and will certainly appeal to foodies with its extensive depictions of beautifully prepared meals that will inevitably leave viewers salivating. The doc doesn't really delve deeply enough into its important subject, but it does have the advantage of being the first out of the gate.

Production company: Red Queen Productions
Director-screenwriter: Maya Gallus
Producers: Maya Gallus, Howard Fraiberg
Director of photography: John Tran
Editor: David Kazala
Composer: Keir Brownstone
Venue: Hot Docs

75 minutes