It’s International Women’s Day
To celebrate, we have been in touch with a few of our female private chefs, who gave us some insight into their personal experiences as chefs in a male-dominated industry.
International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating equal opportunities for women.
A study by Big Hospitality shows that just 6% of the 2,286 Michelin-starred restaurants are led by women and 6.73% of the world’s best 100 restaurants have a female head chef. Although these numbers have been growing since 2016, it’s important that we recognise that these numbers still suggest a significant gender gap in the industry and there’s still more work to be done.
The fact that most kitchen positions are currently held by men can create a naturally male-dominated environment in restaurant kitchens and a machismo culture, which is a significant factor that may dissuade women from going into the industry. Aggression and competitiveness are characteristics often found in kitchens that will inevitably lead to a negative working atmosphere – not just for women, but for everyone. The first step to creating equal opportunities for female chefs is to promote a kitchen environment in which all employees feel respected, and their emotional wellbeing is taken seriously.
To celebrate International Women’s Day this year, and to amplify some of the many talented female voices that are present in the industry, we spoke to three of our private chefs, Georgina Stinton, Shaloma Gooden, and Liv Garriock, who gave us some insight into their personal experiences as a female chef in a male-dominated industry.
Being a female chef is empowering in many ways; you need to be strong minded, confident and lead just like men when being a chef.
I’ve been working in hospitality for over 11 years and I’ve found women are usually more organised and clean in the kitchen, more attentive, and should be seen as equal to men chefs. I am a highly-rated, proud female private chef at Dineindulge.
How Long Have You Been A Chef?
I have cooked all my life, but it took a while to call myself a chef. I didn’t have the confidence. On both sides of my family, food has always been a part of our life. It’s always how we came together and expressed our love and connectivity. My dad was an amazing cook – he could have been a chef, but he didn’t like the long hours. He always told me ‘Never become a chef or you’ll end up hating food’. So, I went to uni, during that time I was working in restaurants and a pub as front of house and in the kitchen, finished uni and was like ‘actually, I love food and I’m going to become a chef’. It took me a while to have the confidence in what I do to call myself a chef.
I worked in numerous pubs and restaurants, learning as I went and worked a few seasons, until I found you guys. It’s been really good; it’s helped me build my confidence and belief in myself. I enjoyed working in kitchens, but they were always very exhausting, emotional, and I was always trying to learn everything. I miss the teamwork sometimes and the environment of working together, but since becoming a private chef, the person that I rely on is myself, I am the bottom line – from the food to the service.
Have You Had Any Particularly Bad Experiences In Restaurant Kitchens?
For most of the kitchens that I worked at, it was rare to see a female in the kitchen. If they were, they were kind of slotted into the whole male aspect of everything. When I first started out, it was a massive thing to my confidence and a bit of a wakeup call to the way kitchen environments are. Working with different types of people, and how they deal with things; I’ve been shouted at in the past, sworn at and had things thrown at me or around the kitchen. I don’t think it happens as much these days but that’s how kitchens used to be, and it was very overwhelming.
I’ve been called ‘passive aggressive’ and ‘aggressive’ in the past for how I voiced myself or sharing my opinions. I don’t think many men would use the term passive aggressive for another man. But, as a female, having a voice or being assertive and dominant and saying what you think, you’re then called aggressive/passive aggressive. A few times I’ve had to look at myself and been like ‘am I actually being passive aggressive or are they just taking this the wrong way because they’re not used to someone being so direct with them?’ I have to advocate for what I believe in, and think is right.
What Experience Do You Have Collaborating With Other Female Chefs?
Not as much as I would like – most of my work environments have been male dominated. One of my seasons, we had a female hotel manager, me, and all the people who were below us in the kitchen staff were female (except the KPs). It was very female heavy, which was lovely. It took us a little while to get used to working with each other, but we were there to work hard and get the job done.
When you work in a kitchen, it’s a team effort – you’re not just the one leading it. We collaborated on a lot of the work that we did. One of my chefs from my season would be surprised when I’d give her credit for the dishes she made. I would speak to the hotel guests after service and they would ask how the food was made and I’d bring her out and be like ‘Genevieve is the one that did it’; giving someone else credit for where credit is due, which then helped her confidence. We still message occasionally now, and she still messages me about certain dishes and vice versa as well which is fantastic.
Within Your Private Chef Work Have You Found Yourself In Any Situations That Have Made You Feel Uncomfortable?
One or two – but what is quite nice is that I normally call clients the day before to introduce myself and you get a sense of their personality and how the dinner party is going to be. Most of the time I’ve had a fantastic time. ‘You’ve been our favourite chef so far’ – makes you feel a little bit more valid. I’ve got to learn now that the word ‘good’ is good.
The worst review that I’ve had with Dineindulge was one of my worst experiences of cooking. One of the guests kept making comments that I was a female chef. ‘We’ve never had females, only male chefs’ – it made me re-evaluate quite a lot of what I was doing and how I was portraying myself. But to trust my taste and food.
Do You Have A Female Chef That Particularly Inspires You?
I follow a variety of chefs, I enjoy food and seeing what other people can create. Social media has been fantastic for me to follow and be inspired by a lot of female chefs in England and around the world.
One of my biggest inspirations was my Oma, my Mum’s Mother, she was Dutch. She passed away a couple of months ago.
Every couple of years, I’d try go out to South Africa to spend a month with her. We’d just literally cook the whole time and talk about food. I got to my late 20s and I was like ‘I don’t really know much about Dutch cooking/South African cooking’ – and so I went, and she taught me. My Opa (who was my Grandad), he used to be the worker and my Oma was the housewife. He’d go to work and then expect to come home to dinner on the table. Sometimes, he’d call her up like 12 hours before saying ‘I’m coming home, I’m bringing 6 people for a dinner party’, and she would do it. She was an amazing woman – and she was an amazing cook – she would make things look so easy and effortless, so yeah, she was one of my biggest inspirations.
Being a woman in the cheffing world comes with its challenges – even now in 2023, which seems ridiculous. However, I love what I do, and I don’t see being a woman as a barrier at all. In fact, if someone says I can’t do something it only makes me want to do it more and prove people wrong!
I remember my first job in a kitchen, it was a fairly high-end vineyard restaurant with a team of about 8-10 chefs and I was the only woman. I found it a bit intimidating as I was brand new to the job having had a big career change (I’m a former midwife), but I was excited to learn. The head chef, Jeroen, saw something in me and wanted to give me a chance. He was amazing and I learned a lot from him but there were definitely some less supportive staff. I left that job to go and work in a smaller kitchen with a focus on high-end corporate catering and, when I left, the sous chef said, “of course she can’t do this, she’s a woman!”. I was so shocked that someone would say that I didn’t really have a comeback at the time! Well, that was 7 years ago and now I own and run my own restaurant, heading up the kitchen, catering and bespoke cake offerings. I’m also a highly rated private chef for Dineindulge… So, I guess I proved him wrong!
The freedom and flexibility to choose their own working hours and having full control of the process are just a couple of the reasons why Georgina, Liv, and many other fantastic female private chefs choose to work with us at Dineindulge.