Was a Masterchef judge right to say women should abandon families to be chefs?

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

Emily Watkins, chef patron of the Kingham Plough: Masterchef: the Professionals judge Galetti's views "off-putting"
Emily Watkins, chef patron of the Kingham Plough: Masterchef: the Professionals judge Galetti's views "off-putting"

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When Masterchef: the Professionals judge Monica Galetti told the Radio Times last week that ambitious female chefs would be wise to abandon thoughts of having a family - or even a boyfriend - in favour of their careers, it thrust the issue firmly into the spotlight. 

She said: “At a certain point, women have to decide how much they want their career versus having a family and spending time with family… the truth is you’ve got to put it first to do well.

“I’ve seen so many amazing chefs, girls, come into the kitchen then give it up to be with their boyfriend. Would he do that for her?”

Rebuttal

But Emily Watkins, chef patron of Oxfordshire pub the Kingham Plough, gave a passionate rebuttal of Galetti’s views in The Guardian.

Emily Watkins:

People need to have more confidence in the industry and realise that you’re not going to be repelled for being a woman

The award-winning chef, who recently had her fourth child, said: ​“Although there are times when my husband would say that I’ve put my job before my family, I’m happy with my career.

“I don’t think I could put any more into it or take any more out of it. I always wanted to be a mum, but the business was my baby and I’d never missed a service.”

Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics claim that of the quarter of a million chefs working in the UK, roughly one fifth are female.

Off-putting

Watkins said she thought Galetti’s view was off-putting to girls because it made them feel like their families and their careers were mutually exclusive.

“People need to have more confidence in the industry and realise that you’re not going to be repelled for being a woman. Good chefs are very scarce. The demand for good chefs is so fierce that it’s an employee’s world,” she added.

In light of the issue, The Publican’s Morning Advertiser ​asked some of the top female pub chefs to share their opinions and personal experiences:

Stosie

Stosie Madi, chef patron of the Parkers Arms, Newton-in-Bowland, Lancashire

"I agree in that once I realised I wanted more children & looked back on failed relationships due to my dedication to my work I questioned my choice. On hindsight now would I do it again? Yes but differently. If you want children and a family it is doable. I would say to do what Monica advises and throw yourself in it 100% to make a breakthrough, but give yourself a set break point to take a break and have a family and work around it. We are in 2015 after all - these are modern times and any chef - male or female - with the right training, commitment and love for the industry has huge negotiating powers with employers. I love my job and would not have it any other way but I really wish on hindsight I had slowed down a little and had more children. Women are much needed in the kitchen, it’s not that it is hard work; it is the long unsociable hours.  But hey, the guys have to do it so if we say we want equality we should also be willing to put in the time."

Lucy Townsend, The Greyhound

Lucy Townsend, owner of the Greyhound on the Test, Hampshire

"[The industry] is not archaic anymore. You don’t have to do five or six doubles a week anymore to make it work and you shouldn’t be doing that. I have a disabled husband and a young family and I can still work six days a week and still run a bakery, an outside catering business and a ten bedroom hotel. Why would you want to discourage people from coming into the trade when there’s a shortage of people coming in as it is? I work 24/7 with great support from my family and I’ve been able to get on with it. It’s a load of s***, really. It’s completely different now from when I first started when I was in very male-led kitchens in London but I was never treated any differently because I was a woman. I’d hate to think anybody I worked with or worked for me would feel like that. It’s a great industry but there’s not enough people coming into it so you can’t start putting people off by saying those things." 

Emily Scott-chef-whites-Polly-Renwick-HR

Emily Scott, chef owner of the St Tudy Inn, Cornwall

"I do think that the long hours and huge pressures of working in a kitchen have an impact, but it is all about choice. I gave up a huge amount when I had the Harbour Restaurant - my three children were six, four and two years old. I had a nanny and wasn't at home much, but it wasn't just because I was ambitious and wanted a career in food. I'm a mother first, but I need to work - not just for money but for me as a person. It is hard to juggle both, there's no doubt about it, but I don't think that should stop women wanting to be chefs. I think there are many talented women out there cooking but they are quietly getting on with it. We are under a lot more pressure because if you choose to have a family as well, you've got many more balls in the air. The positive thing is that my children have very much been on the journey with me - they are a part of it. They've naturally picked up essential skills for themselves to use in the future because they know their way around a  kitchen and I've instilled an incredible work ethic in them."

Athena---Alice-Bowyer

Alice Bowyer, executive chef, Bath Ales

"I think Monica Galetti has a point. That’s the problem with the industry that women have to choose between family and loved ones and a career. That is the state of play at the moment but we wouldn’t ask that of male chefs. Both men and women make sacrifices to their work and hospitality – if you want to succeed, you have to. The perception of the industry will have to change to make it seem less off-putting, especially to young women. As employers we need to be more flexible about what we offer women with maternity leave and childcare and promote that more. I would say – because I’ve been quite career driven – that what [Galetti] has said is right, I’ve had to choose. There is pressure on women to make the choice rather than concentrating on their career – I’m not sure what the solution is."

Related topics: Other operators, News, Chefs

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