Women in Hospitality Interview
Current Position: Maternity leave
Career to date
I started cooking professionally in 2012 when two friends and I set up a cafe in Tooting Market, it was hard work but great to work with friends and begin my hospitality journey. I then began to explore a whole food holistic approach to cooking upon moving back to Brighton and became a chef for yoga retreats and a private chef for personal clients. It was a fun time and great exploring a love for seasonality, nutrition and a field to fork approach to cooking. Since then I’ve worked for agencies, have put on my own retreats and events and have contributed recipes to a couple of books. In 2018 I became Head Chef of The Canna Kitchen in Brighton, the UK’s first CBD infused restaurant which was an amazing experience – hard work but really rewarding heading my own kitchen and having full creative control. Unfortunately, the restaurant has closed and I’m developing myself in other ways. Now, I’m self employed and love the creative freedom this gives me as I’m able to hone in on my style of cooking and passion for plant based whole foods.
How and when did you train in hospitality, was there a particular reason for this career path?
My father was a chef when I was younger and I learnt a lot from him, he stopped to look after me and my brother when my mum went back to work – an unconventional approach at the time. Food was such a massive part of our family, we sat around the dinner table every evening for a feast which my father had lovingly prepared each day – there were no shortcuts or pre-packaged ingredients, just wholesome, nutritious food and I owe a lot to the solid foundation he provided. His flair for flavour, quality ingredients and cooking lives on in me.
Describe your job in three words:
Creative, demanding, fulfilling
Favourite aspect of the job?
Being able to share my passion and knowledge for nutritious, honest food with people who may not have the same flare and understanding of food as I do.
What excites you most about your role?
As much as it excites me, it’s also one of the scariest parts of being self employed and having your ‘career future’ in your own hands. Being able to seek out new avenues and options is exciting but there’s a certain amount of instability there too.
Is there a moment in your career that stands out above the rest?
I think being Head Chef of The Canna Kitchen was a highlight for me, it was amazing to be part of such an iconic and forward thinking concept which stood to challenge stereotypes, conventions and misconceptions of plant based therapies. I was able to design a menu with sustainability, seasonality and plant based health in mind which are all very important to me.
Would you agree that hospitality is a male dominated industry?
Oh definitely, I’ve worked in lots of professional kitchens where I’m the only female. It can be tricky with a ‘lad’ environment but I can stand my ground and shout up if I need to!
Can you summarise what it is like working in a male dominated industry?
I’ve overheard misogynistic comments and a real ‘macho’ vibe, but I’ve also worked with some fantastic men who appreciate the delicacy and attention to detail women can bring to the scene. A lot of the time I see the females on the pastry section and that always makes me laugh / cringe – women bake cakes yeah?!
Do you have children? Has raising a family affected your career development?
I’m currently pregnant with my first child and do feel that my career choice has been affected as it’s not a sedentary job and standing up for 10-14 hours a day, lifting heavy pots and pans isn’t feasible whilst pregnant. I’ve taken a step back from commercial cooking and have put on my own retreats and events during pregnancy so I can manage my time and requirements better. This time has also given me opportunities to recipe develop and I’m contributing to a book written by Dr Joanna Ward about health and nutrition which has been fantastic.
If so, how and why do you think that is?
I think in a lot of sectors, taking time out to start a family puts a pause on career choices and this break can be seen as a hindrance to employers. Rather than the gender pay gap between men and women, I think it’s highlighted by a woman’s choice to fall pregnant and take time out to raise her children which should be celebrated not filled with angst and worry.
What advice would you offer for women looking to embark on a similar career?
To follow your passion and dreams and don’t let anyone get in your way! It doesn’t matter what gender you are, if you have drive and skill and are ready to work hard to achieve what you want, you will succeed.
Words of encouragement for women who aspire to reach a senior position in hospitality?
There are a lot of senior positions in many career choices that are dominated by men, but that doesn’t mean things aren’t changing or women don’t have the same skill set or ambition. Keep pushing forward and don’t let anyone undermine you.
Do you have a go-to or failsafe plate of comfort food?
Roast dinner for sure! The nostalgia and comfort this meal brings me are unparalleled. My grandfather was Danish and a big dinner man, so my father continued that legacy. These days it’s all plant based for me and I love a wellington or cram-packed nut roast with all the trimmings, let’s not forget the gravy – I make a stock first and really create a rich umami flavour without compromise!