Where Are All The Female Chefs: the old mentality of a woman's place in the kitchen can be confusing when measured against a reality where only 19 percent of chefs are female. In this series, we profile a selection of female chefs from around the world and ask them how we can elevate the place of females within the restaurant industry and address the inequalities that exist.
Martha Ortiz is a Mexican chef and owner of restaurants Dulce Patria in Mexico City and Ella Canta at the InterContinental London Park Lane. In part one of our interview series Where Are All The Female Chefs, Ortiz discusses the culinary landscape for female chefs in Mexico and her dedication to investing in women. A bold feminist, Ortiz is dismantling the patriarchy in the restaurant industry, one investment at a time.
You may have heard the saying, “Women make good cooks, but men make better chefs”. Would you agree or disagree with this statement?
I absolutely disagree. I think women are great cooks, but they're also excellent chefs; that is, leaders. Women are able to look at the bigger picture, and in the same way men must develop their leadership, authority and management skills, we can too.
Do you believe it is easier for a man to succeed in the career path of a chef than a woman? If so, why do you think this is?
In my country of Mexico, in many disciplines, it can be easier to be successful if you are a man. The percentage of female cooks who are the head chefs and owners of their companies is much lower in Mexico than the global average, and I am sure it is the same in many other countries across the world. María Canabal, the founder of Parabere Forum, shares the annual data and differences, as part of her drive of "seasoning of conscience"—she hopes to improve the global understanding of these challenges. We need more successful women worldwide, as an example and inspiration for the younger generation.
What are the main barriers faced by female chefs looking to get into the industry? Can you share an instance from your personal experience?
My personal experience as a woman in Mexico was complex from the start. From the very beginning when looking to get off the ground, searching for funding and capital from the banks, they always asked, somewhat indirectly, "if I had a male partner" which really bothered me.
In London it is different, though I feel that often the vision and management of a restaurant enterprise by women can still seem ‘extraordinary’ and not normal in some circumstances, which can act as a hindrance. There is such an amazing array of talented chefs in London who are breaking this barrier.
To what degree do you believe female chefs have to avoid traditionally feminine behaviour in a professional kitchen and take on more masculine traits?
I believe that female strength is more than sufficient and complete in achieving success; we do not need to change any character traits—they simply help us. It is more a matter of education, mentoring and opportunity. We must break the "caramel ceiling", as I say!
A majority of restaurants are owned and operated by men and there seems to be a continuing interest in investing in them further. Why is this and how can we promote more aspiring women entrepreneurs to come forward?
As a woman my duty is to hire other women and develop in them a sense of responsibility, as well as being their inspiration and mentor. I do this in all of my restaurants, including Ella Canta in London, where we have several female chefs working. If men invest in men, it is my duty to invest in women.
What are some of the strengths that you believe female chefs can bring to the industry that perhaps their male counterparts are unable to?
Women have an exceptional sense of sensuality that can be seen and developed through flavors. We also have an aesthetic intuition, inborn idea and delicate handling of textures; all this combined with our sensitivity and strength, makes us the emperors of fire.
Can you offer some advice to aspiring female chefs on how they can succeed in a male-dominated vocation?
I always recommend female chefs to approach other women who have been successful that can help them understand the possible obstacles and how to overcome—even the day to day things. There is nothing better than receiving training and teaching from someone who has masterfully cooked her own life.
The numbers at a glance