How British Female Chefs Are Taking Over Restaurant Kitchens
It's said that "if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen," but happily, that's no longer the case for women in commercial kitchens, with female chefs like Angela Hartnett (Murano) and April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig, The Breslin Bar & Dining Room) paving the way.
"It just happens that it’s a male-dominated industry, so there’s always going to be more blokes - and I’d be bloody amazed if it doesn’t continue like that," Hartnett told the Evening Standard.
"Why is that? It’s the golden question - is it the hours, is it the money? Is it hard work? It's not impossible to have families and all the rest of it. It’s just the choice, I suppose. I don’t think it’s a case of redressing the balance, because we make a bigger issue out of it saying there’s a problem."
But now that Kim Woodward is at the helm of the illustrious Savoy Grill - making history as the institution's first female head chef in 126 years - a new generation of women is fighting against the dismal statistic that only 18.5 percent of Britain's top chefs are female, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Check out the female chefs taking over restaurant kitchens in London and across the UK.
WHO: Hélène Darroze
WHERE: The Connaught in London and Restaurant Hélène Darroze in Paris and Moscow
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Sometimes I walk with my eyes lowered," she told the Financial Times. "I am not Angelina Jolie, I am a bit intimidated. I don’t think I am legitimate yet. It’s not that I don’t deserve it, but I am just a cook."
The French born queen of haute gastronomie has three Michelin stars under her belt, and was also named Veuve Clicquot World's Best Female Chef in 2015. She took over the Connaught space from Angela Hartnett in 2008, putting her French stamp on the food and creating special menus like her Poulet du Dimanche, which takes chicken as its starting point to produce dishes like chicken consommé with a ravioli of Bigorre ham, vegetables from the pot and roasted country bread (made to taste just as Henry IV would have enjoyed it) and "poulet rôti du Dimanche de ma grand-mère Louise," a roasted chicken dish that's stuffed under the skin with black truffle and morel and served with "pommes paysannes," boudin blanc, leek and red mustard.
Credit: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images
WHO: Kim Woodward
WHERE: The Savoy Grill, London
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "To be the first here in 126 years makes me feel like I'm writing history," she told The Daily Telegraph. "This is a massive step as a female chef because it shows the trust that the company has in me now. I've earned that trust from some really hard work."
A semifinalist of 2011's Masterchef - the Professionals, Woodward worked as sous chef for the Savoy Grill and head chef Gordon Ramsay's York & Albany gastropub in Camden before becoming the first female to land the key role at the Savoy Grill. When it comes to her signature food, think tradition with a twist: on the menu, you'll find iconic staples like the Arnold Bennett omelette, as well as peach melba (now in soufflé form). New and unexpected flavours also make an appearance, like tonka bean (a vanilla alternative) - look out for it in the tonka bean and English strawberry millefeuille.
WHO: Anna Hansen
WHERE: The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell and Finsbury Square, London
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "There are plenty of female executive chefs, but they are not necessarily in the public eye so much," Hansen told Bloomberg. "There is an element of sexism, but times are changing. For decades, we've been the ones at home, breeding, but it's not our passage in life anymore."
Born in Canada and raised in New Zealand, Hansen's signature fusion cuisine is all about mixing seasonal British produce with a touch of the exotic from around the world - like roast baharat and lemon marinated lamb. She told Best Emerging Chefs that her style was: "driven by the desire to please and excite the palate. My larder is global. There are no cultural or culinary boundaries in my kitchen."
Credit: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WHO: Sabrina Gidda
WHERE: Bernardi's, London
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "There are many phenomenally talented women in our industry, many of whom are now being widely recognised for their contributions to hospitality across the board," she told The Staff Canteen.
A Roux Scholarship finalist - twice - Gidda does modern European like no other, specialising in Italian at Bernardi's where chicken milanese, Cicatelli 'Amatriciana' and tantalising pizzete are all on the menu.
WHO: Clare Smyth
WHERE: TBD, Notting Hill, London
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "When I first started here [Restaurant Gordon Ramsay], it was very, very male-dominated," she told the Observer. "There was a hell of a lot of testosterone in that kitchen. I was told I wouldn't last a week. There were people saying, 'It's not for girls, you shouldn't be here.' It took me a long time to earn respect."
After making her name - and earning three Michelin stars, which she's the only UK woman to do so far - at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Clare Smyth has set out on her own and is planning a new venture in London's Notting Hill. The first female chef to score a perfect 10 from The Good Food Guide, Smyth was born in Northern Ireland and is known for introducing an Inspiration Table (instead of a chef's table, as she prefers her kitchen to stay private), to give regulars the chance to try exciting new dishes.
Credit: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images
WHO: Emily Watkins
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "When it’s your own place there is no work-life balance. You don’t have a life! But in the nicest possible way: the Plough is everything I ever dreamed of," Watkins told The Telegraph.
Watkins began cooking in Italy before cutting her teeth at The Fat Duck, under Heston Blumenthal. She opened The Kingham Plough in 2007 with a creative menu inspired by modern takes on British dishes of yore, like crisp courgette flowers and cuttlefish, wild rabbit Wellington and asparagus, broad bean and pea shoot custard tart.
WHO: Skye Gyngell
WHERE: Spring, London
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Cooking is not about being the best or most perfect cook, but rather it is about sharing the table with family and friends."
Australian-born Gyngell is one of the country's most famous chefs, known for her seasonal, local cuisine that put Petersham Nurseries on the map. Currently helming the kitchen at Spring, in Somerset House, you'll find gorgeous dishes with the freshest produce like goat's curd with Fern Varrow leaves and bruschetta, wild turbot with radishes, chard and bay butter and slow cooked shoulder of lamb with chickpeas, courgettes and roasted peppers.
Credit: Adam Pantozzi/Bernstein Associates/Getty Images
WHO: Mary-Ellen McTague
WHERE: The Real Junk Food Project, The Wonder Inn, Manchester
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "For about 10-15 years the whole time it was just about survival and getting through it and learning skills. Constantly trying to learn stuff and know stuff and get faster and get more efficient. I didn’t really ever question whether it was a good idea or not. And also when you're working 80-90 hours a week there's just not a lot of time to reflect and you end up working quite hard and playing quite hard as well. You're just never sat around thinking, you're just doing all the time."
After honing her skills at The Fat Duck and running Prestwich favourite Aumbry for five years, McTague has been tapped as the head chef at newly opened pay-as-you-feel "waste food" restaurant The Real Junk Food Project. Serving only food that would otherwise be thrown away, McTague not only uses her creative ingenuity, but taps into her passion for food sustainability with this latest endeavour.
WHO: Lisa Allen
WHERE: Northcote, Blackburn, Lancashire
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "Even though I'm a head chef now, I'm always learning about food, every day is a school day."
By the tender age of 23, Allen had cemented her head chef status at the Michelin-starred restaurant Northcote, where she originally started as demi-chef de partie. She adds a playful edge to traditional British fare, like her reimagined Kendal mint cake or wild rabbit and leek turnover with piccalilli, the winning dish on BBC's Great British Menu in 2010.
WHO: Angela Hartnett
WORDS TO LIVE BY: "At the time you felt like you were in a war zone," Hartnett told the Guardian, "because you were being screamed at, but when you relaxed you could laugh."
One of the country's most acclaimed chefs, Hartnett won her first Michelin star during her tenure as first-ever female head chef at The Connaught after working for Gordon Ramsay at Aubergine in the 1990s. She recently opened her second Café Murano outpost in London's Covent Garden, and is promoting the next generation of fabulous female chefs in her kitchen, including head chef Sam Williams at Café Murano and chef Pip Lacey at Murano.
Credit (main pic and bottom): Angela Hartnett (Joseph Okpako/Redferns)