In their careers, women were once cooks and men chefs, and never the twain would meet. People over forty may remember that women were told that they did not have the temperament to be career chefs, or that they could not deal with the pressure in that career path.
Today, there is more interest in becoming a career chef than at any other time in history; it is now viewed as a glamorous career option. However, despite fifty years of feminism, women like Rachel Ray and Nigella Lawson are more TV personalities than career chefs.
Women appear reluctant to blame sexism as the reason they do not get on in the professional kitchen yet the barriers to becoming a career chef appear to be slowly coming down.
Gordon Ramsey seems an unlikely champion of female career chefs but the first British woman to gain a Michelin star is Angela Hartnett who began her career in his kitchen. Angela was the first female head chef at the Connaught ending over a century of male domination. Héléne Darroze, a leading chef in Paris, has recently opened her first restaurant in the UK at the Connaught. She was trained in her career by Alain Ducasse and is widely acknowledged as one of the top female chefs in the world.
Some decades ago the kitchen was regarded as a macho place with highly strung chefs flinging knives at unsuspecting sous chefs. Women were not attracted to the highly unstable atmosphere prevalent in a kitchen. Nowadays although that image is maintained by Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White, most people regard it as being in the realms of entertainment rather than in the real world.
Women do face disadvantages in taking up a career as a chef; the hours are long, hard and antisocial especially when they are first starting out. However they have some advantages – successful women do stand out in a male dominated world. “Cheffing” is a career in which you never stop learning, but it is a career for life. The career objectives may change but you will never have to retrain.
To become a career chef is now a respectable profession and it is attracting new recruits in droves and many of those have a university degree. The days when chefs could cook but went bankrupt for lack of business acumen is diminishing. Héléne Darroze graduated from university with a business degree before joining Alain Ducasse’s Michelin starred restaurant in Monte Carlo.
For those who want to cook for a career and cannot imagine ever doing anything else, it has never been a better time to don the white toque. Shifts are still long and dedication and commitment are necessary to succeed, but if you can’t stand the heat…