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Cast iron maidens

Published on December 21, 2016
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From TV shows such as BBC2’s Great British Menu to the line-up of chefs leading the demos at food festivals, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the professional kitchen is an exclusively male arena.

However, growing in numbers is a small army of fabulous female chefs rocking the pass. Kathryn Lewis spoke to five of the South West’s leading ladies about what life is like as a cast iron maiden

Louise McCrimmon

Louise McCrimmon

Executive chef, Harvey Nichols Second Floor Restaurant

How does the dynamic in a professional kitchen change when a woman is at the helm?
Working in a professional kitchen is always going to be tough, but to succeed you need to persevere and to keep challenging yourself to learn as much as you can. I believe that’s what’s important, regardless of gender.

I was lucky enough to train under Prue Leith at Leith’s, before a number of roles led me to Harvey Nichols, and I’ve been here for 19 years. The hours are demanding and I believe that puts some women off; however, the satisfaction of working with a great team that is committed to the same goal, and the feedback from happy customers, makes it worthwhile.

Emily Scott

Emily Scott

Chef patron, St Tudy Inn

Is it harder to be a female chef?
I’ve believe that my own drive and consistency in the workplace has helped me succeed and that my gender hasn’t held me back. I’m generally in competition with myself – bringing people together around the table is the most important thing for me. Perhaps women are more modest about how good they are and what they can achieve than their male counterparts – and being able to multitask is an added bonus.

I trained in France before moving to Cornwall in 2000 to run my restaurant and kitchen, and it’s a lifestyle choice which is very demanding. I’m lucky to have a fantastic team that responds well to my enthusiasm, creativity and passion.

Elly Wentworth

Elly Wentworth

Junior sous chef, Lucknam Park

Do you think we need more female celeb chefs?
I’d love to see more women entering professional kitchens. It’s an amazing industry to be a part of and people like Monica Galetti, Angela Hartnett, Lisa Allen and Claire Clark – women I have long looked up to and aspired to be like – have a huge role to play in attracting women to it.

The more we see that cooking is a viable career for everyone – not only men, the more women we’ll see entering the professional kitchen. And if in any small way my appearance on BBC2’s MasterChef: The Professionals helps, I’ll be delighted.

My experience on the show has been absolutely amazing, and one that I’ll never forget. Not only has it given me a confidence boost, but also even more motivation to develop as a chef. The first round was my highlight, getting a 10 out of 10 for my first dish was a huge achievement – especially from Monica Galetti!

Kate Butler

Pastry Chef, Saunton Sands Hotel

Which female chefs inspire you?
I grew up baking at home with my mum, so early inspirations would be women like Mary Berry and Delia Smith. As my hobby progressed from parttime baker to full-time pastry chef at Saunton, chefs such as Clare Smyth really stood out for me. She’s shown the world that women have a place in a professional kitchen.

I’ve been cooking professionally for about four years and in that time I’ve only worked with three other women, so I guess it’s become normal to me to be surrounded by men on the pass. I’d love to see more female chefs in the spotlight, but I think it’s simply a knock on effect of the lack of women pursuing cheffing roles.

Emily Watkins

Emily Watkins

Chef proprietor, The Kingham Plough

Why are there fewer female head chefs?
The professional kitchen has been a male environment for years and it’s difficult to change that in a hurry. It still comes down to the fact that it’s hard to raise children and have a career as a full time chef, as the hours are long and tiring and don’t gel with conventional timetables. I’m lucky that since leaving London in 2007 and taking over The Kingham Plough I’ve been able to bend working hours around family time.

That said, the professional kitchen has changed dramatically over the past 20 years and it’s now a much calmer place. Pressure is still high – it always will be – but attitudes have changed and there’s mutual respect between men and women.

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