Job title: Head chef at the Coach, Marlow, Buckinghamshire
Time in the trade: 14 years
Best advice received: Get your head down and keep pushing.
Advice given: Always work hard and work towards the next level. Never settle, be the best you can be and be happy.
Challenges faced: I’ve been really lucky on my journey to have worked with some of the best in the business. I started out by having the best support circle at home. With my dad being in the industry, he knew exactly what advice to give me from the offset. Being a chef is a challenging job, for both men and women. It’s a lifestyle choice which is both tough and very rewarding.
Have things changed for women since you started your career in the sector: My gender has never held me back, but I think the industry has changed a lot since I began my career. We now see more compassion and recognition for chefs within the sector, with many companies focusing on staff benefits and support schemes like Hospitality Action. I don’t remember there being much of that around when I first started.
What barriers are there to still overcome and how would you suggest these are tackled: Visibility is important. In the Tom Kerridge Group we have three women in head chef positions, and they are there based on their skills and talent. For those starting in the industry to see they can make it to the top with determination and hard work is key. My pastry chef Sarah Bacon is incredible, and when you have someone in your kitchen who is very good, it’s crucial to ensure they continue to grow and develop, no matter what gender they are.
How can the sector #BreakTheBias: The barriers around hospitality have primarily been based on hours worked and rates of pay. It’s well known for having long hours, and being a not very well-paid trade. This has already begun to change, and is something the new generation of chefs will automatically benefit from. Making these changes visible and well-known throughout colleges and social media will help break the bias. There are so many amazing chefs out there that have a genuine love for this industry and wouldn’t change it for the world. I know I wouldn’t.
Job title: Company director at the Bridge Arms, Canterbury, Kent. My job role changes on a day to day depending where I’m needed across both pubs. Kitchen or front of house.
Years in trade: 13 years in the trade
Best advice received: You can achieve anything you put your mind to.
Advice given: Anyone can learn to cook or become a chef but it’s everything else that goes with it that will stand you above the rest, your passion, hard work and determination is what will make you go far in this industry.
Challenges faced: Owning a restaurant is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my career, especially dealing with the worldwide pandemic, having to keep jobs safe while being closed.
Have things changed for women since you started your career in the sector: I have definitely seen changes since the beginning of my career, when I was starting out there were few women in the industry,
I do think woman in hospitality are much more respected and in the last 10 to 12 years more and more woman are at the top of the game.
However, I was lucky enough the changes did start to happen a little while before my generation. My catering college was full of women chefs, it was very inspiring. Throughout my career I have always been surrounded by women achieving their full potential in this industry, exactly the way it should be.
What barriers are there to still overcome and how would you suggest these are tackled: We have come such a long way, and it’s now a case of making sure we maintain the equality and diversity in this country and across hospitality.
How can the sector #BreakTheBias: From my experience gender no longer plays a role, if the talent is there and you are capable of doing the job, I think that’s what people look for now, and I’m also speaking for myself when looking for staff.
Job title: Chef patron
Time in the trade: 35 years
Best advice received: Ask questions. listen, don't be afraid to be you. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
Advice given: It's a big wide world out there. Make sure you see it, absorb it, taste it and feel it. You will become a stronger person. This is the foundation to life, just live it. My second piece of advice is to be the best you. You need to believe in yourself, stay strong and never give up.
Challenges faced: In the early nineties I struggled to find myself in the early days as a female in a predominantly male orientated industry. I was more than often not seen as 'one of the boys'. I felt I had to work twice as hard and speak louder to be heard. Kitchen brigades have changed so much since then.
Later on in life, balancing family life with my own business in a professional kitchen has always been challenging.
Have things changed for women since you started your career in the sector? - When I started hospitality at college, it was a 50/50 ratio of male female.
But when I started in professional kitchens, I noticed I was the only female in the brigade. It was seen that females would only really take on the front of house roles. Over the last 20 years there has been an incredible rise in very talented female chefs. These women are the strongest in our industry. Not only are they proving they are good at what they do, they are also rising above the prejudices of past generations.
What barriers are there to still overcome and how would you suggest these are tackled: There are still a few barriers, but these are gradually being broken down. In times to come, if we all support one another, let us speak out and be seen. Then the lack of equality should be a thing of the past.
How can the sector #BreakTheBias: There needs to be more opportunities given in higher positions. With more and more women breaking through the sector in higher roles, our future generations will not have to face the struggles we had to endure as young women finding our feet in the kitchen. With Social media giving everybody a platform, it is now easier to be heard.
Job title: Pastry chef and co-proprietor of the Bailiwick Free House, Egham, Surrey
Time in the trade: 13 Years in October
Best advice received: I have received a lot of truly valuable advice, but I read something recently that beat it all: “Striving to be the best is a mistake. It creates the illusion of an endpoint - and a delusion that you can only succeed by beating others. Striving to be better, shifts the focus from victory to mastery. You’re only competing with your past self and raising the bar for your future self.”
Advice given: Work hard, have a good attitude, and have patience- remember, nothing happens overnight. Stay Determined, stay positive, stay motivated and stay humble.
Challenges faced: The biggest challenge I faced was at the beginning of my career, just accepting that it was a male dominated industry and that I was not going to let it affect how I worked or what I wanted to do in my career. I must say that personally and luckily, I don’t feel like I ever received bias from anyone for simply being female, I was always treated like just another member of a team, the pressure to prove myself, to stand out, to be better - came from me being so hard on myself and always wanting to do my best.
When approached about this article I went back to an article I was involved in, from the Observer food monthly in August 2012 (rather aptly 10 years ago), it was interesting reading my 19-year-old self answering questions about being a woman in the industry and how I feel now as an employer rather than an employee.
One thing I said in the article was… “I did not want to be the little girl in the corner, who couldn’t hack the banter. And although no one treats me differently, there’s something inside that makes you want to stand out even more for being a girl.” I do not feel the need to stand out even more as a female in the industry now, men and women contribute different skills and qualities to a business and that fact should just be celebrated.
Have things changed for women since you started your career in the sector: Hugely, since I started anyway, the number of female head chefs, managers, business owners now at the forefront of hospitality has changed. Hospitality was perceived as a male-dominated industry because so many of the leadership roles were assumed by men.
So, it was quite easy to see how females in entry level positions felt less inspired to remain and progress in the industry. Having a lot more females in leadership roles inspire more into the industry and make people aspire to be like them.
What barriers are there to still overcome and how would you suggest these are tackled: The barrier we must overcome right now is the huge staff shortage in the sector, not just of females, but in general. We need to attract new people to the industry, treat them well, show them what they can learn and how they can grow, make them aware of how amazing and rewarding it can be. Managers taking care of their staff, talking to them, inspiring them, making it a place that people want to work and want to stay.
How can the sector #BreakTheBias: This is already happening. Ultimately, a person’s gender should not prevent them from reaching their full potential- it is down to the person. Everyone has the ability to be successful regardless of their gender through hard work and determination.
Job title: Chef patron and co founder of the Parkers Arms in Clitheroe, Lancashire
Time in the trade: 30 years and counting.
Best advice received: Get your business plan right and make it work.
Advice given: Never stop trying.
Challenges faced: The fact that the pub is in a remote, rural location with no transport so very hard to recruit, and there is weather dependent seasonal trade.
Have things changed for women since you started your career in the sector: I have never allowed my sex to hold me back. I have never worked for anyone but I do hear it is getting better out there. I do not know many women who do what I do; own, run and cook in a pub business but I know of many more that run and manage pub businesses now for groups. It is good to see.
What barriers are there to still overcome and how would you suggest these are tackled: I should imagine there are endless barriers. Some may never be overcome. I firmly believe self-belief and confidence is a major driver towards business success for all. Believe in yourself and your product. Shout loud enough, and the right people will eventually hear you knocking on the door and open it.
Being heard is the first step; make it about the business and the project, not your sex, and never be afraid to stand up for yourself. 2022 is an era when thankfully many people are aware of underlying sexism amongst many other issues, avoid anyone trying to hold you back and push yourself forward.
How can the sector #BreakTheBias: It begins with industry greats, media, competitions etc. Women should be included equally this will encourage more women to be brave enough to participate more. I am in shock every year when I see TV shows such as Great British Menu or Professional MasterChef with no equal female representation.
Role models are important and TV/print/guidebooks/magazines all need to be inclusive and encouraging. As long as we have no representation in the media we can never encourage more women into the industry.
Job Title: Landlady and chef of the Swan and Spelt, Bampton, Devon
Time in the trade: More than 40 years.
Best advice received: “Don’t give up”.
Challenges faced: Just trying to get a foot in the kitchen in the early days, it was a very male dominated place, a kitchen, I was offered many a job as a waitress though. Women were seen as cooks! To work in care homes, schools or café, we couldn’t possibly be called a chef.
Have things changed for women since you started your career in the sector: Things have changed and the industry as a whole is much more accepting in genders swapping roles that were once very stereotyped, but on saying that, it’s taken a long time.
What barriers are there to still overcome and how would you suggest these are tackled: Our barriers now are not just as to whether a male or a female gets the job, its more about encouraging people into our trade, to nurture, to encourage, to teach and support, and work on a better work/life balance, which at present, is a hard thing to do with so few staff available to us. So many left the trade for other things during the lockdowns and the youngsters didn’t get the chance to train and became disillusioned.
Job title: Head Chef
Time in the trade: 20 years with time out
Best advice received: Always cook from the heart- you have no one to impress but yourself.
Advice given: I tell my chefs all the time: don’t be a butterfly. Don’t flit from one job to another; stay, grow and learn in one place until you can’t develop any more. Something would have attracted you to that job in the first place - the industry is full of people moving from one place to another and never really taking the time to settle and grow.
I take great pride in my chef’s progressions and actively nurture younger team members. A few of my current chefs started life in the kitchen as kitchen porters or apprentices and have grown to become my second in command – that is hugely rewarding.
Challenges faced: When I started in cheffing 20 years ago, I absolutely faced sexism on a daily basis to the point where other male chefs in the kitchen wouldn’t even interact with me. Gender equality was basically non-existent back then. Also, as women in kitchens, we don’t get given the understanding and flexibility to raise children, which is why I ultimately left the industry for a while. Men can raise children too, so should it automatically fall to the women to take care of family life? I also felt that I had to go the extra mile to prove my worth when my male counterparts didn’t.
Have things changed for women since you started your career in the sector: Yes, in some ways, things are different from 20 years ago. It’s still a long battle to earn respect but I’ve leant that as long as I can prove my standing as a talented chef, it doesn’t matter what my gender is. You just have to go out there and do it and prove them wrong. Make mistakes and pick yourself back up again. Never stop challenging yourself.
What barriers are there to still overcome and how would you suggest these are tackled: The barrier for me at the moment is some male chefs automatically think they are better- it’s a macho mindset that somehow seems to be engrained in the industry. This needs to be tackled because it is the food and the collective creativity of the team that counts, not gender. We also need to close the pay gap. A note from owner, Charlie here, is that she’s very happy to mention that my starting salary at the Five Bells was the same as the prior male chef’s salary.
How can the sector #BreakTheBias: Showing respect for the younger generations when they come in so that they stay. I respect everyone as an individual and work with their traits and get to know them as people, not as cooking machines. We have a no shouting policy in my kitchen, along with no swearing and no throwing of anything... we also have a whole lot of fun too!
Job title: Head Chef at Butcombe Pubs & Inns, the Pavilion Arms, Bournemouth
Time in trade: 19 years on and off within hospitality, 12 years as a professional chef.
Best advice received: "Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. Don't worry about the future, just live in the here and now and work hard"- Richard Benyon, my ex-mentor.
Best advice given: "You can be anything you put your mind to"
Challenges faced: Pre-Covid I don't think mental health within hospitality was taken very seriously and a ‘man up’ attitude was adopted. Post-Covid, with help from organisations like The Burnt Chef Project, I feel that it is a lot less of a taboo subject.
Another big challenge is too many people leaving the trade to seek other employment and not enough people coming into the trade. I really hope in the not-so-distant future hospitality isn't still perceived as a side hustle or an unskilled job.
Have things changed for women since you started your career in the sector: It’s really important that women can be head chefs and can lead brigades. Only in the last 3-4 years have I worked alongside other female chefs in the kitchen which is a step in the right direction and a welcomed change in a male driven world. I feel super proud that here at Butcombe Pubs & Inns we have many successful female role models who are flourishing and setting the bar high within our businesses.
What barriers are there to still overcome and how would you suggest these are tackled: Hospitality needs to be seen as a career and as a trade. We need to get more young people into hospitality, learning their trade and thriving. Employers need to provide top training and support the employees to allow them to become the best they can be, whatever the sector within the trade.
How can the sector #BreakTheBias: The stereotypes of job roles need to be addressed. Still, to this day only 17% of all chef jobs in the UK are held by females. In the past I have had male chefs very openly say that they would not work under a female head chef.
I would say to any females thinking about getting into a professional kitchen - to go for it! Believe in yourself, work hard and never stop learning.
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