A Woman In the Kitchen 

College of Idaho alums' award-winning podcast questions the culinary status quo

click to enlarge courtesycopper_heat-_2_.jpg

Courtesy Copper & Heat

During the final episode of Copper & Heat's first season, podcast Co-creator Katy Osuna asks, "Why would anyone want to listen to me?"

Not long after she posed the question, in April 2019, the podcast won a James Beard Award—one of the most coveted distinctions in the culinary world, and proof that people were listening. When the news broke, Katy and her partner Ricardo Osuna, who co-created and co-produced the podcast, could hardly drink it in.

Drawing on Katy's experience in professional kitchens, including her time as a chef de partie at the three-Michelin-starred Bay Area restaurant Manresa, Copper & Heat explores "the unspoken rules and traditions of the kitchen" and reveals the vantage point of line cooks, chefs de partie and sous chefs. In addition to sharing her own experiences, Katy interviews former coworkers, industry professionals and her boss at Manresa, Chef David Kinch.

The first season of Copper & Heat, "Be a Girl," focuses on the gender gap that increases with each level in the hierarchy of a professional kitchen, a place where women are strikingly absent. According to RestaurantHER, "Women represent only 19% of chefs, and 7% of head chefs across the culinary world."

Traditionally, restaurant kitchens have functioned as meritocracies. Cooks move up through grit and hard work, starting out as unpaid stages (pronounced "staahjz"). If cooks prove themself, they become chefs de partie, then sous chefs, and, eventually, head chefs or chef/owners. This tradition has produced both hardened, precise and skilled chefs; and workplaces that discourage those who don't jive in aggressively heterosexual, masculine environments.

click to enlarge COURTESY COPPER & HEAT
  • Courtesy Copper & Heat

"Be a Girl" interviewees highlight that it isn't just women who are forced to adapt to the kitchen's norms. As listeners learn from Katy's conversations, many cooks who identify as male feel equally fed up with the system.

Both Idaho natives and College of Idaho alums, Katy and Ricardo bring an inquisitiveness to Copper & Heat that keeps listeners thinking long after each episode wraps. Both credit their liberal arts educations. Katy started her first restaurant job while working on the senior capstone for her sociology and anthropology degrees. Challenged by Associate Professor Scott Draper to apply theory to real life, she looked at the rituals taking place around her during and after the Friday night dinner rush.

"It was the first time I thought about it in that way," she told BW.

Ricardo attributed Copper & Heat's success in part to journalism Professor Alan Minskoff.

"I learned from him to focus more on asking questions rather than trying to prove a point. I think we brought that through to the podcast," he said.

After graduation, jobs at the City of Boise and Create Common Good, which focused on one-on-one work with individuals, further shaped the Osunas' perspectives.

After choosing the podcast platform, Ricardo and Katy dove into the medium, devouring how-to books, connecting with others in the podcast community, listening to "podcasts about how to make a podcast" and using their technical knowledge of audio to produce each sound-rich episode. In August, Katy and Ricardo had the opportunity to visit the Podcast Garage in Boston through a program with the Public Radio Exchange (PRX), where they spent a week with some of their podcasting heroes.

Recognition from the James Beard Foundation has helped validate what Katy and Ricardo set out to do with Copper & Heat.

"It's an amazing shorthand for people understanding that we're serious about it, and we take it seriously—and apparently other people do as well," Ricardo said.

Still, it's the people the Osunas hear from every day that fuel Copper & Heat more than any award. The second season of the podcast is in the works, and Katy and Ricardo are asking for submissions from folks in the industry to form mini episodes they're calling "Family Meal."

"We got our first one from Meagan Stout, a black female chef based in Nashville, Tennessee," Katy said. "She sent in her stories of being underpaid, and of finding out someone she was supervising was making $8,000 more than her."

Shortly after submitting her story, Meagan sent a message to Ricardo and Katy telling them what the experience meant to her.

"Thank you so much for doing this," she wrote. "Going back through these things, I realized I hadn't fully healed. Talking about it and sharing it was really helpful."

"Those kinds of things are really validating for me," Katy said. "I read them and feel like, 'Ok, I'll keep doing this.'"

It's not just those in the restaurant industry who connect to Copper & Heat.

"When we first released, a woman who'd gone through the military wrote us this very long, heartfelt note about how she had no idea this is how it is in kitchens. It reminded her so much of the challenges she faced as a woman in the military," Ricardo said.

Friends and family members who've listened to the podcast echoed that surprise.

"I've had a lot of conversations with people I know well who go, 'Oh, that's what you've gone through?' They had no idea," Katy said.

Helping people connect their fine dining experiences and what goes on behind the scenes is at the heart of Copper & Heat.

"We think of that as the mission of our project—why we're so passionate about it," Ricardo said. "We felt these are underrepresented voices and experiences in the larger food media landscape."

Katy and Ricardo still work on Copper & Heat when they can, and dream of someday opening a restaurant with a kitchen that defies the norm.

You can listen to Copper & Heat on most platforms where podcasts are found and at copperandheat.com.

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