There were some strong and inspiring words at Compass Group's latest Women in Food networking event, as Katherine Price reports
Be who you are. Don't be scared." These were the words of Emily Roux to a room of around 200 hospitality professionals, including female chefs from across the industry.
The setting was a Compass Group UK & Ireland networking event for female chefs at Somerset House in London. It was part of the foodservice company's Women in Food programme and its commitment to tackling the shortage of female chefs by supporting women in the industry and encouraging more women to consider a career in hospitality.
Guests heard from speakers including Giselle and Emily Roux in a question and answer session hosted by Jeremy Ford, chef-director of Restaurant Associates, Compass's fine-dining division. They could also visit showcase stands hosted by female-owned food organisations, such as Dipna Anand, Indian cookery course instructor and co-owner of Brilliant restaurant in Southall, London.
e female Rouxs may be the wife and daughter respectively of Le Gavroche owner Michel Roux Jr and members of the prestigious cooking family, but they have also forged their own careers in hospitality. Giselle is secretary of Le Gavroche, Emily a consultant chef for Restaurant Associates, and they have just published their first cookbook together, New French Table. Emily also plans to open her own Mediterranean restaurant with her husband in London as soon as next year.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics have revealed that female chefs are increasingly scarce in professional kitchens. Fewer than one in five chefs in the UK (18.5%) is a woman. Compass has a 35% female chef workforce, and has pledged to have a 50-50 workforce by 2020.
"I think it's become a lot better," said Emily, discussing the issue on stage with Ford and her mother. "The first restaurant I worked at I was the only female chef there. But over the years, with open kitchens where everyone can see and hear what's going on in the kitchens, it's changed a lot in a good way."
Giselle suggested that the long hours and male-dominated environments have a lot to do with why there is a lack of female chefs in the industry. "It's difficult to have a family working in the industry," she said.
n fact, Giselle said she had originally attempted to dissuade her daughter from following in her father's footsteps. "I was very concerned. I was just thinking it's long hours, a difficult business for girls. But she's very happy to do it, and that's fantastic."
Giselle added that it is helping seeing more female chefs on television - "and not just at the back of the kitchen".
The final question came from a member of the audience who asked what the perfect ingredients for a strong female chef were. "Determination and concentration," said Emily. "Be who you are, go out there and do your thing. No one will bite you; don't be scared."