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Female chefs leading the way to better equality in kitchens

On the 1 December (2019) it will be 100 years since Nancy Astor became the first woman MP to sit in the House of Commons – among key achievements that paved the way for greater equality for women. However, despite the huge advancements in gender equality that have been made in the UK in the past century, in 2019 we still live in a society where a law was only passed in March allowing mothers’ details to be included on marriage certificates and where, according to gender pay gap data for 2018, no employment sector paid women better on average than men.

In the hospitality industry research1 based on Office of National Statistics (ONS) for 20181 shows, women represent less than one in five of chefs working in the UK (17%).

Capital gains

There is an increasing number of women role models leading the way for greater equality in kitchens, including many of the leading lights in London’s fine dining scene now female.

These chefs include Clare Smyth who won the controversial ‘World’s Best Female Chef 2018’ in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards (with the award receiving criticism by some chefs and media for being sexist and unnecessary). Smyth, chef/patron of her debut restaurant ‘Core by Clare Smyth’, which opened last year in Notting Hill, London has two Michelin stars and is the first and only female chef to have run a restaurant with three Michelin stars in the UK.

Star performers

Angela Hartnett, who was voted the ‘Ayala SquareMeal Female Chef of the Year 2018’ (a new award launched last year) continues to be among the UK’s most famous and inspiring female chefs. She rose to fame as Ramsay’s voice of reason on TV’s Hell’s Kitchen and her award-winning restaurants include Murano and Café Murano.

Also providing strong role models to other women considering a career in the kitchen are Nieves Barragan Mohacho, responsible for a Michelin star at Barrafina and who has already achieved another Michelin star at her Sabor restaurant which opened last year; also Anna Haugh, former Executive Chef at Bob Bob Ricard who is due to open her own restaurant, Myrtle, in Chelsea this month (April).

Still inspiring others after 32 years at the helm of one of London’s most iconic Michelin-starred restaurants is The River Café’s Ruth Rogers, who was awarded an MBE a decade ago for services to hospitality and speculation continues about possible expansion plans. Also, Sally Clarke who has been chef/owner of legendary restaurant/bakery Clarke’s for 34 years.

Other top female chefs who have risen through the ranks and shown other women you can reach for the (Michelin) stars are Rachel Humphrey, Executive Chef at Le Gavroche, who worked her way up from apprentice to become the first female head chef in the iconic restaurant’s 40-year history. Also Hélène Darroze, who was the inspiration for the character Colette in the film Ratatouille, and holds two Michelin stars for her restaurant at The Connaught and has other restaurants in Paris and Moscow.

XX success

Other successful xx chromosome chefs include Pip Lacey, who opened her restaurant Hicce in Kings Cross last year; Ravinder Bhogal, chef/owner of Jikoni in Marylebone; Selin Kiazim chef/owner of Turkish restaurants Oklava and Kyseri; Shuko Oda, head chef of Koya; Chantelle Nicholson, chef/patron of Tredwells and Group Operations Director for Marcus Wareing Restaurants and Kady Yon, Executive Chef and Operations Manager for Soho House + Co.

In addition to running a restaurant with an all-female kitchen, Asma Khan, Head Chef and Founder of Darjeeling Express who also features in Netflix show ‘Chef’s Table’, also champions charities supporting women through her restaurant, with a % of profits going to the ‘Second Daughters Fund’, which supports second born girls in India whose births are sometimes still mourned.

Beyond the capital

Of course, the UK’s vibrant and quality food scene isn’t just about London, with a wealth of talented female chefs leading kitchens and food operations across the UK. Among these are the three chefs currently appearing in Great British Menu 2019 – Lorna McNee, sous chef at restaurant Andrew Fairlie at Gleneagles; Cindy Challoner, formerly of The Classroom in Cardiff and Emily Scott, Chef/Director of the St. Tudy Inn, Cornwall, who has been named one of the 100 influential women in hospitality by Code magazine. On being named in the list Emily said: “The industry has changed a lot for the better since I trained, and the presence of more women as chefs, sommeliers and business owners has played a massive part in that.”

Lisa Allen Goodwin, Executive Head Chef at Northcote Manor, who worked her way up from Chef de Partie to her current role and is a MasterChef judge, is another queen of inspiration as is Mary Ellen McTague, co-founder of The Creameries in Chorlton, whose impressive CV includes The Fat Duck and Aumbry.

Pubs fuelling growth

Pub kitchens are an area of the hospitality market which is increasingly seeing more women, such as Great British Menu’s Emily Scott, in chef/owner or executive chef positions. Others include former Great British Menu winner and judge Emily Watkins, who trained at The Fat Duck and spent 11 years until February as chef/patron of the multi award-winning Kingham Plough in Oxfordshire and had four children along the way.

Stosie Madi, chef/patron of The Parkers Arms, near Clitheroe, has been at the award-winning pub’s helm for 12 years and the work of Natasha Norton-Smith, co-owner and pastry chef of The Fordwich Arms in Kent, whose CV includes the Michelin-starred Chapter One, is receiving rave national press reviews.

The group executive chef of The Liberation Group, which won the Publican Awards’ Best Food Offer 2019, is the inspirational Alice Bowyer and the head chef of the only Michelin-starred pub in London, the Harwood Arms in Fulham, is the highly impressive Sally Abé.

TV helping raise profile

The appearance of young women chefs on TV such as MasterChef the Professionals 2017 finalist Louisa Ellis and Great British Bake-Off winner Candice Brown, who opened her own pub The Green Man in Eversholt, Bedfordshire, in February, is undoubtedly also very helpful in trying to attract more women into starting their careers in this industry.

Gender neutral

As Clare Smyth told The Guardian in an interview last August: “What we need to do with this generation is make sure we support them, so they get to the top. I hope that, when we do that, they’ll break a mould and that will be finished. We won’t need to talk about [gender] anymore.”

Let’s hope that world where we can talk about chefs who happen to be female, rather than female chefs, is a place the hospitality industry reaches in the very near future.

1.Analysis of Office of National Statistics (ONS) employment data from 2018 compiled by luxury hospitality recruiter the Change Group.






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