Inspired by the upcoming ‘International Women’s Day’ on March 8th, 2017. The culinary industry has always had a reputation for being an “all-boys club” due to the sheer number of men dominating the industry.
As such, we’ve rounded up a number of inspiring female chefs who struggled their way up, beat the odds, and are now pioneers in the usually male-dominated career path.
1. Rachel Humphrey, head chef at Le Gavroche
Rachel Humphrey might not be a familiar name to some – especially us Singaporeans. But the femme fatale of chefs is no stranger to the Michelin-starred culinary geniuses. Humphrey first began as an apprentice at the notable Le Gavroche, back in 1996. Today, the head chef not only holds the title of Le Gavroche’s first female head chef, she is also the first woman chef in the United Kingdom to hold 3 Michelin stars under her apron.
But the position did not come without its challenges. In an interview with The Guardian, Humphrey mentioned that she always knew that she’d have to spend her life without children or marriage in order to keep fighting in a competitive field. “I made a choice to pursue my career when I was younger. When people I grew up with were meeting their future husbands and getting married, I was at work. I wouldn’t moan about it, that’s my choice”. Anything to survive the industry and pursue your dream job right?
Despite her accolades, Humphrey does have a few words of wisdom she’d like to impart to other women trying to make it in the industry. “What’s most important is to prove yourself in the kitchen, whatever your sex. The kitchen environment can be aggressive, but I learnt that the best way to be respected in the kitchen was to make sure that I never gave the guys any ammunition against me.”
2.Yuki Chizui, manager of Nadeshiko Sushi
The art of sushi making in Japan has always been limited to men. But Yuki Chizua is the first female sushi chef to challenge the patriarchal notion. Manager and chef of the notable Nadeshiko Sushi, Japan’s first restaurant with female sushi chefs. “We were trained by male sushi chefs. Most of them regarded the female staff as merely window dressing. We were expected to just stand there and shape the rice. They didn’t expect us to understand how to do more difficult tasks. Our only value to them was in our physical appearance”, says Chizua in the video.
Male chefs are not the only barriers Chizua had to overcome. With Japan’s staunch traditional values dictating that “women are unfit to be sushi chefs because their hands are too warm” or the notion that women have changing palates due to their menstrual cycle – a trait deemed unfavorable if you want to succeed in the art of preparing raw fish.
Despite this, Chizua is determined to succeed and make history as a female sushi chef. Her ultimate goal? To see the word sushi chef be affiliated with sushi chefs without a focus on the chef’s gender.
3. Cheryl Koh, Tarte by Cheryl Koh
Quick exercise. If someone mentions “award winning pastry chef” do you imagine a petite woman of color or a French looking maestro male in a spiffy chef’s hat? If you (unashamedly) answered the latter, you must know that it is not your fault. The culinary pastry industry is one of the most notorious in male-dominated careers.
The art of mastering pastries is a carefully crafted one. Most chefs attend formal college for an average of 4 years before learning more about the craft in a 2 to 3-year apprenticeship. And pastry chef, Cheryl Koh is no stranger to the trials and tribulations of the industry. The chef’s journey first began at the Raffles Hotel, Singapore and took her on a global odyssey across the world in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants. Some of her pit stops include the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, and the two-Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890 in Macau. Today, Cheryl helms her own pastry shop – Tarte by Cheryl Koh located at Shaw Centre as well as the title of “Asia’s Best Pastry Chef”. An inspiring journey.
Know another inspirational female chef that thrived despite the odds? Let us know in the comments below. Article inspired you to cook? Keep an eye out for our upcoming #droolsnaps theme in March that aims to celebrate powerful women.