International Women's Day

How Donna Berry became the chef she is today

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Women

Donna Berry is a straight talker and will not let anyone disrespect her or her staff. In this feature, supported by Knorr, Donna outlines her career and accolades so far.

Name: Donna Berry


Job title:​ Chef, landlady, general skivvy, barrel changer, clearer upper, agony aunt and more, the Swan, Bampton, Devon.

How you got there:
College chefs’ course, numerous hotel and pub kitchens (a few waitressing jobs) in and around the south-west.

I was offered my first head chef’s job at the age of 25 and went on to sort out kitchens within a small chain of hotels and pubs, managing a couple of properties in transition periods.

I returned to Torquay and continued running kitchens while having a family, thanks to my family, friends and an amazing child minder.

I relocated to Bampton after marrying Paul in 2007 to run ‘our own pub’ subsequently taking on the Swan a few years later then decided to concentrate on just the Swan rather than both places.

Suddenly, we were discovered, first we won the local gazette pub of the year, then Devon Life ​pub of the year, Trencherman’s Guide ​pub of the year, 2 AA rosettes, Michelin recommended, tourism awards and, of late, an invitation to the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs Awards, all of these mean a great deal to us.

It’s recognition of what we do and prompts us to strive for more. I’m not always sure that the customer understands, they think they’ll see a price rise because we’ve won something, but on the whole I think they’re happy for us because, deep down, they know how hard we work.

Where do you see yourself next:
Hopefully a new site in the village (the Swan will still keep going). Applications are in as we speak, a small neighbourhood restaurant with light bites and sharing plates, a mixture of traditional British and beautiful spiced dishes, lots of fish and meat from local farmers, it will be all about the flavour. I have a million ideas...

Biggest issue for women in our trade right now:
It’s women themselves, in having the self belief, that they are just as good.

Although it’s fair to say there are a lot more high-profile female names in the catering world these days, it’s hard to understand why there isn’t more.

Maybe, as women, we have let the men take the limelight and been happy to stay at the stove, or that might just be me speaking.

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I’m strong in the fact that I’ll work day and night to get a job done, longer or earlier than most can manage.

I’ll practice till I get it right, OK isn’t good enough, but I’m not shouty, I’m not one for bigging myself up, but I’m happy in what I do, so a pat on the back or a little praise can make my week.

What, if any, experiences of sexism in the workplace have you encountered?:
I know that, some years ago, I wasn’t offered a chef’s job because I was female and in one case I was told there were only men in the kitchen but there were waitressing jobs going.

I find the biggest culprits these days are suppliers who, on first call, ask to speak to the head chef is ‘he’ in, and should an order go wrong I feel that’s because somewhere else has priority over my order.

Well I mean not all doctors are men and not all nurses are women are they? So a few companies have lost their accounts with us over the years and I have a very long memory!

Your advice to others who want to achieve what you have:
Don’t give up on your dreams but do your homework. If you want to be a Michelin-starred chef, go and do a week’s work, pay them if you have to, to see if it’s for you. Do you want the best pub, café, bakery?

Go and look at what the good ones do, take as much advice as you can get and never think you know it all, there’s always something new to learn.

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Related topics: Chefs

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