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The trailblazing chefs who make the gender question irrelevant

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” – Julia Child

I’ve often been asked the question, “Why don’t we see many female chefs in the kitchen?” (I don’t answer anymore.) Interesting, though: I’ve never been asked why there are many more women food writers around than men.

Who cares? As long as we celebrate the female trailblazers, the fabulous restaurateurs and chefs, as much as we do the men.

The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

To remember the pioneering women who marched against injustice many years ago, SA has a public holiday on Monday. As I look back and honour their courageous fight, I am inspired by many chefs – both male and female.

On a recent trip to Italy, I was in the very powerful presence of Clare Smyth, chef-patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. With Margot Janse of The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français on my right, I whispered, “Who is she?” Dressed up all glam, she looked more like one of the Italian Vogue fashion editors. Margot rattled off an impressive CV.

I love how chefs clean up after changing from wearing their whites behind the pass. At the Eat Out Restaurant Awards every year the boys look hot too, in their black attire with quiffed hair.

Chef Margot Janse of The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Chef Margot Janse of The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

One of my legends is chef and author Alice Waters, who owns the restaurant Chez Panisse in California. She advocates the culinary philosophy that cooking should be based on the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally.

In Franschhoek, Margot does exactly that. I’m a huge admirer of how her cooking style reflects honest, bold locality, and how she can, through storytelling, create an extraordinary dining experience.

The interior at Restaurant Mosaic. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The interior at Restaurant Mosaic. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

At last year’s Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards, the Chef of the Year title went to Chantel Dartnall, who hails from an all-girl kitchen team. At Restaurant Mosaic the approach is very delicate and precise; and although there are artful plates embellished in tiny flowers, this style is not inspired by femininity, but rather the philosophy of French chef Alain Passard. There are many chefs that wield such finesse, and it’s not necessarily less masculine. It’s just a style. Bloke food can be light and pretty, too!

Chef Chantel Dartnall of Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Chef Chantel Dartnall of Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

A restaurateur whom I admire and would love to meet is the originator of tashas, Natasha Sideris. Her restaurants continuously inspire me, from those gigantic displays of veggies and cakes to their look and feel, the menu and how she energises each branch around the county.

She’s always evolving, that’s what’s so amazing – whether it’s a new style of crockery, new takeaway boxes or new Fairtrade coffee. The consistency throughout the group is always top quality, yet she’s bought a uniqueness to each of her stores. Hyde Park has a different menu and decor, a kind of French bistro, while at the Waterfront, the focus is more on tapas: there you can have a glass of cava with your pickled octopus. And at tashas in Constantia, ice cream is a feature. She makes franchises bespoke.

Another chef with a trademark is the phenomenal Jackie Cameron, who is now out of the restaurant kitchen and is busy training a new generation of chefs. Jackie Cameron’s School of Food and Wine is where she inspires our upcoming young talent. In pure coincidence, all of her inaugural students are young aspiring women. So we’re on our way to answering that question very soon…

tashas le parc. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

tashas le parc. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

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