This Women's Month, I take a look at how female chefs cope in today's hospitality industry. The days of male-dominated kitchens are definitely a thing of the past as women increasingly make their presence felt.
The numbers of successful women making their mark in the hospitality industry and being role models for other female chefs are increasing with more of them in the spotlight. Those receiving accolades in this country include; Margot Janse (previously of Le Quartier Francaise), Chantel Dartnall (Restaurant Mosaic in Gauteng) and the well-known Jackie Cameron (previously of Hartford House who now runs her own School of Food & Wine in Hilton).
Female chefs at Big Easy
Less discrimination in the workplace
Luckily, today’s generation of female chefs are encountering less discrimination from their male colleagues than before. Their challenges are more an inner struggle with themselves in juggling the tasks of being a chef, a mum and feeling the need to do better and work harder for recognition.
I did experience a period of male resistance shortly after graduating from hotel school, when an older male colleague resented taking orders from me, a younger woman. I resolved the issue by getting to know him instead of throwing my weight around and discovered that he could teach me a great deal as he had more experience. It was a lesson in humility!
Respect and responsibility
The ratio of male and female chefs in the Big Easy Durban kitchen is evenly split and in the words of one of our commis chefs, Ayanda Ngema, “The men are chilled and encourage us ladies not to sweat the small stuff… it helps us to calm down!” Mispa Dunn, another commis chef, says “Working with men in the kitchen is like being surrounded by a band of brothers.”
There is definitely a family dynamic in the kitchen where everyone is protective of the other. While the female chefs bring a different sense of pride, humour and passion into the kitchen, everyone needs to be a team player and have respect for each other and themselves.
I think one of the biggest challenges for female chefs, especially those who are single moms, is juggling family responsibilities with their restaurant career. Every successful woman needs a good support system at home. Without it, one needs to seriously consider which is more important, a demanding career or being a mum.
The female chefs on my team and I came up with ten tips for women considering a career as a chef:
- Believe in yourself and don’t get put into a box
- Don’t doubt your abilities
- Don’t take everything personally
- Deal with criticism in a positive way
- Don’t develop an ego
- Work with passion
- Do not give up
- Have the ability to work under pressure
- Be dedicated and love the job
- Stay calm to cope with the challenges.