We know the culinary industry in India and the world to be a male-dominated industry. Nearly seven percent of restaurant owners and head chefs are women around the world.
Now, these numbers talk only about the head chefs and owners. What about the total number of women chefs in the industry?
In India, nearly 80 to 90 percent of chefs are male, according to a news report by Hindustan times last year. These numbers show a contrary to perception, cooking is not a women’s job.
Though these numbers show the contrary, it’s disappointing to note that this industry has employed the lowest number of women. Things have been changing in this industry in the last decade, but it does not change the fact that the culinary industry India is predominately male-dominated industry.
ChefBharath.com has pursued a story that talks about the success story of women attracted towards the white coat, walked into the male-dominated industry, driven by passion and love for cooking to make a mark in the kitchen.
The female chefs we spoke agree that the passion and powerful will in them made them break the social barriers in order to achieve their dream. The initial days in the field were difficult to fit in, eventually, they found supportive mentors and colleagues.
“Initially, the language used and the casual attitude of my male colleagues seemed harsh and crude. However, with every passing day with a determined attitude and strong will power, I kept proving my capabilities and initiative to handle any challenge, and even enjoying those moments, I slowly became their teammate, there was no further disinclination as a woman, I was just there friend, colleague and ally,” said Chef Moumita Bhaumik, Chef Culiniar de spécialité, NIPS School of Hotel Management, on her initial experience into the industry.
The notable reason this industry is male-dominated is the long inflexible and strenuous working hours and negligible relaxation on leaves, and others. Women are vulnerable to competition from their male colleagues for challenging obstacles like motherhood, family, stereotyping.
It’s more challenging owing to demands of long working hours and high levels of flexibility which discourage women from taking up jobs in the industry. However, understanding the rising concerns of women regarding their safety, flexibility in working hours, and pleasant work environment, in reciprocation to these causes, the management at hotels are taking stern in-house initiatives like car drop after working hours, flexible timings, and maternity benefits, from the small Unit to Corporate level.
To women entering this industry, Male-domination is not the only biggest issue they face. The demoralisation of dream from the family is another problem the woman’s face.
“I did not have support from my family initially. My dedication and passion towards my work made them realise my love for it. They understood my work and pressure that came along with it and gave me a lot of support,” said Chef Swetha Kode, Head of Bakery and Confectionery, Compass Group India.
Families need to be aware of that women’s workload and responsibilities in this Hospitality industry to adjust and support accordingly. With the support of family and colleagues, women would have the confidence to move forward as they are not alone and protected against judgmental behaviour. It also gives them the confidence to work harder in this patriarchal society to prove each of them is as talented and tenacious as others to earn their support and respect.
These issues prevail all across the world regarding this field. In Mauritius, both women and men have the same opportunities, responsibilities and salary. This influenced women to venture into the culinary industry.
Chef Diane Uppiah, owner of Blacksheeep restaurant, Mauritius said, “Time has changed and people’s mindsets have changed too compared to before. For a long time, women have been excluded from professional cooking and it was a profession for masculine conventions but nowadays, more women overcome this discrimination and become great chiefs as they are committed to working and they are enterprising person, like Helene Darroze”.
She worked with various hotels such as The Oberoi Beach Resort, Mauritius, Le Borde de Loire, France and others. To her, perseverance was the key that allowed her to flourish.
The workplace to be more women-friendly changes can come in ways like creating awareness about gender equality at work, promoting the recognition of their efforts.
“It’s a people-oriented industry, you need to have the passion for taking care of your internal team and external guests to drive success. You need to have a strong mindset and utilize the strengths in skill, knowledge, experience, and emotion to pursue what you want, and not wait for it to come to you,” said Chef Malgudi Kavitha, Executive Head Chef, USA and India.
The chefs concur the culinary industry to be an industry in need of skilled labour and those with skills have always moved up despite the hindrances. There is no gender difference in this field, everyone is equal. More importantly, there are laws to protect and make sure no one gets coerced because their job will be at stake. Women are powerful enough to take on challenges, added Chef Sarita Ajit Chavan, owner of Homeland Cuisine.
This structure has been going through drastic changes, with more and more educated people opting to join the industry. The general awareness about the industry has increased through television shows and media promotions have led people to accept culinary as an art form, rather than just a way of earning money.
With more educated chefs on the floor, the atmosphere in a kitchen has improved drastically, especially in terms of the language used. The parent’s awareness of the profession has given wings to the dreams of millenniums.
To the Newcomers
A woman to be placed in the kitchen level position should be more than a standard, it should be for their Skillset. The female chefs before have paved and continue to pave the path for the upcoming generations to enter without hindrance.
It is also important to remember, in Kitchen everyone is a Chef, a gender-neutral word. It does not matter what gender the person is, what is seen and respected is the work on the table.
The sun rises for everyone. The one with determination, passion and hard work excels in any field. Gender equality has become part of all our life allowing women the same chance as men.
Chef Michelle Arcelina Paes, who has six years of experience in patisserie and has worked with The Oberoi Trident Nariman Point, gives her message to her juniors, “Food is Love. I’m proud to be connected with it. Culinary is all about emotions, creativity, dedication, appreciation and passion.”