Can Cook, Must Cook

The food adventures of Franka P, a Trinidadian journalist living in London, UK. I'll write about my forays into all types of food and cooking, particularly Caribbean food. I'll also review books and recipes by the leading food writers and talk about the issues making headlines in the gastronomic world.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Needed: More female chefs!

Angela HartnettEver noticed that the people who hand down the great traditions of cooking are usually our mothers and grandmothers yet the world of food dominated by men?
It's something that crosses my mind pretty often. In fact, I've been thinking a lot about it this week because I've been following the Great British Menu, a competition among 14 of the UK's top chefs to decide who will cook for the Queen's 80th birthday party in June. Michelin-starred chef Angela Hartnett is the only woman among the group of 14.
Angela runs the show at London's esteemed Connaught Rooms and is a protege of the one and only Gordon Ramsay. It must be said at this point that Angela started her cooking career in the Caribbean at the Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados. So we could claim her as one of our own, kinda.

I first saw her on tv a few years back in the first edition of Hell's Kitchen and although was really damn tough on those competitors, she was the coolest one in that highly-charged environment.
I had the pleasure of meeting Angela last year at the Good Food Show in London and I found her really cool and down to earth. In fact, she was so cool that she said I was guaranteed to get a table at her restaurant if when I was making reservations, I mentioned that I was the lady from Trinidad she spoke with at the Good Food Show.
At the show, she spoke about her experiences in the kitchen and how she dealt with the competition among the men at the restaurants she's worked at.
She's always been very upfront about the tough conditions facing chefs and in one interview gave young people this warning; "unless you love the job and you like cooking, the last thing that you’re going to do is work 18 hours a day just to produce food. You’ve got to want to do it otherwise there is no point in becoming a chef."
So if a woman has children or an impatient partner, she's not likely to last very long. If she's thin-skinned and can't deal with a certain amount of industrial language then she's definitely not going to make it.
In the Great British Menu, Angela is up against a younger chef who is not just hell bent on beating a Michelin-starred rival, but a woman at that. So when he comes with any macho bullshit, she lets him have it - it's great television.
I really hope that Angela wins this round of the competition eventually becomes the chef who'll cook for the Queen. Even if she doesn't win, I hope her mere presence in the programme is enough to inspire young women to take up the challenge to become chefs.
As if by coincidence, the latest edition of Fresh Magazine (June 2006) has a very good article about the absence of female chefs in the industry and it makes for pretty sad reading.
Fiona Shoop, a trained chef wrote the article and she said she was so fed up of the sexism, she chose to concentrate on journalism "where you can write your way into a job - whatever your gender".
She pointed out that there were probably four or five female chefs who are widely known across the UK: Nigella Lawson, Delia Smith, Lesley Waters and Angela.

And unless you're a real foodie, you won't know Sophie Grigson, Mary Berry or Ursula Ferrigno who are all extremely good chefs and even better writers.
I believe the situation is the same all over the world. I know of very few top female chefs in the Caribbean. They're in the kitchens but they aren't in the frontline.
Someone who bucks the trend is my good mate Debbie Sardinha-Metivier, the first woman to become an executive chef at a Hilton in the Americas. It'll take a few more Debbies to rise to the challenge if the situation is going to change. I live in hope.

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  • At 20:20, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Fiona Shoop isn't a trained chef. I can tell you that. She's just very, very deluded.

  • At 16:28, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    She's not a trained chef, but she is an antiques expert, opera singer, broadcaster, crime fiction buff, tv personality and professional photographer.

    Now do you think she's deluded?


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