Women in Hospitality | Gemma Ogston

Women in Hospitality | Gemma Ogston

Gemma found her way to becoming a plant-based champion as founder and chef at Gem’s Wholesome Kitchen after a whirlwind career in travel, hospitality and welfare. She is a devoted mother of two children – who inspire her every day to work hard but maintain a healthy work and life balance.  

Please can you share a whistle-stop tour of your career?

I left school at 16 went to art college and dropped out after about six months. Headed to London at 17 and got my first front of house job in the Oxo Tower London. I then went on to Virgin Atlantic where I worked in the cabin crew and basically partied my way around the world. That only lasted a few years and ended up working in various clubs and bars around Soho working on the door for clubs and also having a lot of fun!

I went to university at 28 and studied for a degree in addiction counselling and spent the next ten years working as a drugs counsellor in a variety of rehabs and recovery settings ranging from the Priory to a sex worker project in Hackney.

We moved to Brighton in 2011 and I worked at the Brighton Oasis project for a few years as a counsellor before moving to Barcelona. This is where I started cooking from home for a living and set up Gems Wholesome Kitchen. The rest is history!

How and when did you train in hospitality, was there a particular reason for this career path?

I have always worked in bars, clubs and in front of the house but I’ve never done any formal training.

Cooking wise I am self-taught and have learnt most things from my Mum – she was amazing in the kitchen!

Describe your job in three words;

Varied, fun and challenging.

Favourite aspect of the job?

Cooking – it’s my passion and the fact that I am always doing something different.

What excites you most about your role?

Cooking and learning. The plant-based food scene is so exciting at the moment and I am learning every day. Plants are incredible and for me it isn’t just about cooking and recipes but learning all about the healing power of plants and how we can incorporate them into our diet. Am always reading and learning something new.

The toughest aspect of your job?

The juggle is really hard. Being a mum alongside also running a business can be incredibly challenging at times. It can also feel quite lonely. Sometimes you just want a day off when you have family stuff going on, but that just isn’t possible when you work for yourself.

Is there a moment in your career that stands out above the rest?

When I signed my first book deal with Penguin two years ago. Everything changed for me at that moment. I still can’t believe that it happened, to be honest!

What are you most proud of?

My kids. They are everything to me. I mean I am super proud of the business and my book but for me being a mum is my most important job of them all and my children make me so proud.

I’m also very proud of all the work I have been doing with the council and public health over the past few years. I have been working on producing recipe booklets throughout the year on how to eat more plant-based on a budget and how to eat more sustainably. The feedback has been amazing and has been so wonderful to reach so many local families.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Moving back from Barcelona with no job and no money and having to start up life again in Brighton. I am forever grateful to Sarah from Smorls who asked me to make some breakfast pots for her all those years ago and it is literally where my business started. From that point on everyone in Brighton supported me and the business has grown and grown all from word of mouth.

Have there been any obstacles in the way of your professional development?

Yes all the time. Having kids isn’t necessarily an obstacle but means you have to say no to certain jobs, travel and opportunities because the kids come first.

Time is always a huge obstacle as I never have enough of it, I need more to work as much as I want to and also to be at home as much as I want to be.

Do you have children?.

Yes two.

Has raising a family effected your career development? If so, how and why do you think that is?

My kids were the reason I wanted to change careers all those years ago. Having them gave me a sense of drive to pursue what made me happy. It’s true that I cannot work as much and take opportunities as I am a mum but I would never change it. Recently my son was going through a really difficult time so I had to turn down work, as I needed to be around more. They always come first and are also quite involved in my work. I do a lot of family events and collaborations, the kids are always around and involved. It’s great as they often come with me when I go away to work at festivals or events. I have created that and it’s brilliant!

Who have been your mentors?  

My mum. I am one of five kids. All my siblings have been extremely supportive. I have an amazing group of friends that I have known since school and who are a constant support.  I work with so many amazing women. Aye (Fu Fighters) who I share a kitchen with is an amazing mentor, therapist and friend. As we work side by side we talk and support each other. I couldn’t do anything without my husband Peter, who I run the business and my life with!

Too many amazing women to mention in Brighton but I feel like there is a real sense of community and support among us.

Who has inspired you along the way?

So many amazing women and chefs out there that inspire me and have supported me along the way. Foodie-wise, Gaz Oakly, Bettina Campolucci, Sara Popowa, Lauren Lovatt, Saba Rahaba. And my kids inspire me daily.

What has been your philosophy that has seen the successful development of your career?

Be authentic. Never ever stop being you!

What advice would you offer for women looking to embark on a similar career?

Follow your dreams and passion. Be authentic, genuine and do what you love. 

Build a community around you of like minded people and never be afraid to say no if something doesn’t feel right or is just too much.

Words of encouragement for women who aspire to reach a senior position in hospitality?

Be kind, be yourself and work hard. Don’t be afraid to take a risk or step out of your comfort zone. Community is everything.

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