There is an old saying that “women make good cooks, but men make better chefs.” According to the 2016 Australian Census, this idea is reflected by the number of chefs working in Australia. The ‘chef’ job title was represented by just 25% females and 75% males; while ‘cook’ saw the reverse of 54% females and 46% males.
Does this tell us something important about the way that society looks at the roles of men and women in the kitchen?
Six Chefs Who’ve Made History
This International Women’s Day, let’s take a leaf from these six inspirational and famous female chefs who have changed the way we look at cooking and made significant changes within the industry.
Clare Smyth – Woman Chef Making It in a Man’s World
Clare Smyth is the head chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay and Britain’s first female chef to run a 3 Michelin Star restaurant. Clare’s attitude of perseverance and passion to be successful in a man’s world is what demonstrated her determination to not let her gender limit her success.
She admits that restaurants tend to be “testosterone-driven” but is proud that – as a female chef – she is tough enough to get things done, while adding a more collaborative and “kinder’ touch to cooking.
Maggie Beer – From the Farm to Chef Fame
The Grand Dame of Australian cuisine, Maggie Beer has accumulated a triumphant career spanning almost five decades despite not having any formal training as a chef. She traces her passion for food to her childhood, “food was vital; there was a real interest in food and its quality and an obsession with freshness. Cooking was just accepted, it was part of the norm.”
This interest in fresh food saw her relocate from Sydney to the Barossa Valley where she established the Farm Shop in 1979, which later morphed into Barossa Pheasant Farm Restaurant – famous for its locally sourced Pheasant as well as homemade pâté.
Currently, Beer operates a business in the Barossa producing a range of gourmet foods including Pheasant Farm pâté, quince paste, verjuice, jams and gourmet ice creams. Additionally, she co-hosted the TV show ‘ The Cook and The Chef’ on the ABC and regularly appears as a judge on Master Chef and The Great Australian Bake Off.
Understandably, awards and accolades have come along the way. In 1997 she was awarded Telstra Business Women of the Year; in 2011 the Centenary Medal for service to Australian society through cooking and writing; and in 2012, Beer was appointed Member of the Order of Australia “for service to the tourism and hospitality industries as a cook, restaurateur and author, and to the promotion of Australian produce and cuisine”.
Julia Child – Cooking with Abandon and Passion
Julia Child is a cooking legend. An American chef, she is best known for popularising French cuisine among mainstream households in the United States and making gourmet cooking accessible to everyone. She had a wonderfully flippant and confident attitude, experimenting with food, accepting mistakes and putting passion ahead of perfection.
Julia started her career relatively late at the age of 37, but her towering personality and 6’2” physique positioned her as a unique and much loved female chef.
After becoming a successful food author with her bestselling French cookbooks she broke into the television world in 1963. Her series The French Chef was really the first experiment with a TV cooking show. She changed the way we look at women in the world of cooking – not to mention laid the groundwork for all of the many TV cooking shows that have followed.
Donna Hay – Fast, Fresh and Simple Food
Donna Hay put food styling to the fore even before Instagram was around. As the author of 25 bestselling cookbooks – selling over 4.5 million copies worldwide – her books are known for their simple recipes and beautiful photography.
In 2011 her ‘Fast, Fresh, Simple’ recipes were made into a 13-part TV series on The Lifestyle Channel – where Donna Hay’s name was further solidified into Aussie households as a name synonymous for delicious, healthy and easy cooking.
Hays recent business venture is a new TV series with the focus on kid-friendly recipes for budding juniors.
Rachel Khoo – Inspirational Cooking from a Tiny Kitchen
London-born cook and food writer Rachel Khoo is a young chef who uses her creativity and social media expertise to create a mystique and fascination with cooking. She has demonstrated that thinking outside of the box and establishing a unique personal differentiator can be a successful move in any profession. She used her Malay-Chinese-Austrian-British heritage to create a collage of creativity in her cooking.
Her love of food preparation took her to Paris to complete a 3-month patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu. There she opened her own quirky restaurant in her flat, preparing all of her meals in a tiny space for two diners called the Little Paris Kitchen. She put her videos on YouTube and became an overnight success. The rest is history!
Anna Polyviou – The Punk Princess of Pastry
Melbourne-born pastry chef, Anna Polyviou is a true globetrotter and hard to be missed with her trademark pink Mohawk hair, piercings and sneakers. Her career has taken her from Melbourne to London, Paris to Chicago, and now she is back on Australian shores having taken up residency at the Shangri-La Hotel Sydney.
Chef Anna’s culinary training includes working alongside some of the world’s most talented pastry masterminds such as the Queen’s pastry chef, Katherine Boyden; Pierre Herme from Pierre Herme Patisserie in Paris; Julie Sharp; Nick Paterson; and well-known Bathers Pavilion chef, Serge Dansereau from Sydney.
Polyviou has won a number of awards, including the Nadell Trophy for the UK’s Dessert of the Year and the Culinary Academy Award for Excellence for Pastry. She is one of Australia’s leading pastry chefs and her passion for pastry must certainly be a contributing factor in the recent 11% rise in Australian female pastry chefs (as reported in the 2016 Census).
Remember to stay inspired and to keep burning your flame of creativity.
Tell us, who inspired you to cook? Is there any other female chef you’d like to mention?
All images: courtesy of Facebook.