In August 1956, women marched to fight an unfair system. More than six decades later, should women in the restaurant world still be marching? We asked five industry leaders.
– Margot Janse, award-winning chef and judging convenor for the 2018 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards
– Kayla-Ann Osborn, chef at The Chefs Table and winner of the 2017 Rising Star Award
– Zola Nene, resident chef on Expresso and Eat Out’s Cape Town restaurant editor
– Jackie Cameron, chef and owner at Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine
– Chantel Dartnall, chef at Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient and winner of 2017 Best Female Chef in the World
Do women in the restaurant industry (chefs, waiters, kitchen staff) get a fair deal, or should we still be marching?
Margot: I think we’ll always be marching! I don’t think there’s an automatic switch to choose women in the culinary world, I think that switch is geared towards men. I don’t think we’re victims, but I think we need to fight harder to be heard and seen.
Kayla-Ann: I think we’ve made a lot of progress, but the fact that we still have categories for female chefs makes you wonder. There’s been a lot of growth on the kitchen side, but not necessarily front of house and management. Over the years I’ve often been the only female on a top-level team, and some male general managers or front of house have issues with a female chef. It’s as if you should be quiet and not have an opinion. That’s been my hardest struggle.
Zola: In the traditional world of chefs and kitchens we still have a fight, because women are seen as inferior. But, in the broader industry, such as food styling, women dominate.
Jackie: Yes we still need to march. I tell my female students that you have to work harder and faster to prove yourself. And mostly, female students who join a kitchen get put into pastry. Why not the hot kitchen? There needs to be more balance and equality. The debate needs to move on now. We need to get on and get it done.
Chantel: We’ve come a really, really long way. Ten years ago I would have said yes. But today there are so many more female chefs, and many more young women entering the industry. So I don’t think we need to march for our rights. If we march it would be because we’re passionate and doing it in spite of the difficulties.
Is there a particular woman who has inspired you?
Margot: I think you choose the people to surround yourself with and I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by inspirational women. One of them was Susan Huxter at Le Quartier Français. She believed in me and allowed me to evolve, encouraging me not to just take the regular, boring path. I worked with her for 20 years.
Kayla-Ann: There’ve been three women who have inspired me. Chef Dixi, principle of my chef’s school was one. Jackie Cameron was my earliest inspiration – she’s helped me all the way and I still check in with her on things. And Chantel Dartnell, because she’s amazing, and for the way she runs her kitchen. She makes all her own sauces, she does all her own prepping…
Zola: When I was starting out there were no prominent chefs, my only references were TV cooks, who generally aren’t seen as professional chefs. My inspiration was studying, because I knew for me to be accepted in the industry as female and black, I would need to.
Jackie: Margot Janse. I’ve looked up to her, and I continue to be amazed at what she achieves.
Chantel: Globally, I’d say Elena Arzak and Anne-Sophie Pic. Here in South Africa, Margot Janse was a big influence when I stepped into her kitchen while I was still studying. Meeting her was a tremendous event in my life – she’s revolutionised the industry.
Do you think there’s equality in the restaurant industry? Tell us in the comments below.