Although women are traditionally in charge of the kitchen in most households, it has always been assumed that the busy and tiring restaurant kitchen lifestyle was a male-oriented world.
In recent years, this stereotype has gradually changed. More and more fine dining kitchens are led by female chefs. With their feminine delicacy and a needed high level of perseverance, they are exploring the possibilities of the back of the house from a different perspective.
To get to know women's challenges in today’s gastronomic scene, we interviewed three of them, working in different places and from different nationality backgrounds.
Executive Chef of Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou
Executive Pastry Chef of Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
Chef de Cuisine at
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Hong Kong
Quick Questions and Answers
1. What is your current position?
I'm the Executive Chef of Mandarin Oriental Guangzhou.
I am currently the Executive Pastry Chef of Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.
I'm the Chef de Cuisine of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Hong Kong.
2. How would you define your cuisine?
Western and combination with local flavors and elements into the dishes.
I would say Artistic as pastry is an Art, instagrammable, tasty and bring back memories.
We are doing Joël Robuchon cuisine of course, that is an intemporal French cuisine, some dishes have been created years ago by Mr. Robuchon, but guests still enjoy eating them! So, the main issue is to keep the taste as it was, with as much regularity as you can expect in a 3 stars restaurant. We also created some new dishes by taking inspiration in all the heritage recipes our master gave us.
3. Who did you look up to starting your career?
Thomas Keller & Corey Lee from Per Se as I used to work with them back in the States.
My dad influenced me when I was young. He used to cook delicious meals and while doing my internship in culinary industry I fall in love with pastry, so I decided to be a pastry chef.
The chefs I worked for were examples of course, but I mainly focused on giving the best I could every day, and maybe tried to give even more, push away my limits.
4. What are the main challenges you faced as a woman in a kitchen and how did you overcome them?
As a female leader in the male world especially in Asia wasn't easy, the male Chef is not always easy to communicate with but needs to set by example and actually guide them to work together and gain their respect.
In the beginning it was hard as people would criticize you as a woman is difficult to be in the leading role, and this did happen to me, but I didn't give up and fight, my first job as an Executive pastry chef was with Kempinski Hotel in Jakarta and followed by the second year I got the offer to be the first female Executive Pastry Chef of Grand Hyatt Hong Kong.
Biased against women exist sometimes in a kitchen, but personally I've never let it affect me, I just ignored it. By working mainly with men, you also realize your body is different, maybe a bit weaker so you need to train more. I also think girls must work more than men in order to make her own place in the kitchen.
5. What would you say to a young girl aspiring to become a chef?
Have the passion for what you love and don't be afraid to speak up and step up for it.
If you have the will means you have already achieved half of your dream, there's always a way to reach your dream. "Be positive, passionate and a fighter ".
I would say it's important to include the fact that having a family and working in a restaurant is not an easy thing, with the working hours. As well, she just must trust in her capacity and not to listen to the people that would want to discourage her.
6. Could you share a recipe of a dish you cook for yourself outside the work?
Italian and Taiwanese comfort food. I like to do pasta and what's in season at the market.
I'll share with you a dessert that I always make! The Ananas flambe! (The recipe is at the end of the article!)
Outside the work, I don't really cook, what I often do is barbecues, but there is not really a recipe for that. What I would like to share is a dessert, 「strawberries tart」. (The recipe is at the end of the article!)
7. Why do you like Clement Design's chef jacket?
I have been wearing Clement Design since 2017 it's very comfortable and the fitting and cutting are well thoughtful, even the shoes I also wear from Clement Design.
I love the design as it's unique and the fabric is soft and long-lasting. Personally, I have used some other good brands of chef jackets but I was never satisfied by the cut or look. With Clement Design it has a proper cut which fit perfectly for ladies and makes me feel comfortable and proud to be in my chef jacket.
I like Clement Design jackets, first because I use them from a long time, and in fact, the Clement Design jackets are comfortable and suitable to wear during work.
Strawberries tart by Chef Anne-Sophie Nicolas
95g icing sugar
30g almond powder
Mix the butter and sugar, then add the egg, after that, add all the others ingredients. Mix well and take a rest in the fridge. Flat the dough, put in the mole, and cook in an oven at 175 degrees for 15/20 min.
5 eggs yolk
1 vanilla pod
30g corn starch
Mix the eggs and sugar together, then add the flour, and then put the hot milk in this mix and cook until it boils then put in the fridge. Personally, I prefer to add some whipped cream in it (50/50 of the weight) the cream will be lighter.
Cook some strawberries with a bit of sugar and lemon juice, put this “jam” on the bottom of the tarts, then the cream and some fresh strawberries.
Ananas flambe by Chef Smita Grosse
A Mauritian dessert, Victoria pineapple slice, muscavado sugar, lime zeste, Mauritian rum vanilla bean. A scoop of vanilla ice cream on top simple dessert.
1 ripe pineapple slice ring
0.5pc lemon juice
0.5pc Orange juice
1pc vanilla bean
90g muscavado sugar
10 cl Mauritius rum
Melt the butter slowly in a cooking pan,
Add the muscavado sugar and let it caramelize slowly while stirring it.
Add the juice to stop cooking of the caramel.
Then sautéed the pineapple in the caramel for a couple of minutes, until it’s slightly soft.
Add the rum and flambé the fruit until the alcohol is burnt, and is ready to eat.
Best to serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. You may change the fruit to bananas as well.