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Why all-male kitchens are toast

To mark International Women’s Day, we celebrate some of the talented women in Soho House kitchens, starting with new UK executive chef Kady Yon

“I hate when someone says, ‘Oh my God, it’s a new female chef in the company!’” says Kady Yon. “It shouldn’t be highlighted that she’s female, it should be there’s a new amazing and fantastic chef joining us, and this is her story.”

For the record, then, Kady is an amazing and fantastic chef who joined us for the opening of Soho House Chicago as executive pastry chef. She moved to London in 2015 as UK executive pastry chef, transforming the Soho House pastry programme and team. She was recently promoted to the new role of UK executive chef and operations manager, and is actively seeking more applications from talented women. “Every time we do recruitment, it’s so weird because most of the applicants for head chef roles are male and I always ask people and development, where are the female chefs?”

It’s a question our entire industry could ask itself, with only one woman for every five men in professional kitchens in the UK. The numbers are even worse for senior roles: research in the US recently found that there is only one female head chef for every 15 male head chefs.

“It feels great when people are surprised by what I can do”

A lot of people will tell you that women find the work too physical, that kitchens are too hot, or the hours too long. It gives Bruna Wu, sous chef of the Electric, great satisfaction to prove them wrong. “You meet a lot of sexists who think that we are weaker than men, and it feels great when they are surprised by what I can do.”

Zuzana Lacova, head pastry chef of the Hoxton Grill, is just as determined. “Family and friends tried to push me other directions but I never wanted to go any other way. I am proud to be a chef,” she says, pointing to Clare Smyth, Anne-Sophie Pic and pastry chef Sarah Barber as role models.

What Kady would like to change is how determined women need to be. Finding talented chefs is difficult, and it’s frustrating to think that half the potential candidates are ruling themselves out. Having more women in the kitchen also helps to keep teams more stable, she believes. “I hate to say it but in my experience there’s more nurturing in kitchens that have a good female to male ratio.”

So if it makes sense to hire and develop more women, how do we go about doing that? “Bottom line, we need more representation,” Kady says. “That means not just hiring more women but developing them. Some of my greatest mentors are female and I don’t think I could be here without those relationships.”

There are several success stories already – Kady mentions Alexis Rorabaugh, executive chef of Soho House Chicago, as a thoughtful and committed chef who has worked her way up with the company. Madeleine Haysey, meanwhile, has made a huge success of Malibu Kitchen in The Ned, having come from Barber & Parlour.

“Some of my greatest mentors are female and I don’t think I’d be here without them”

Progress is slow but there has been a small improvement in our ratio over the past year and Kady hopes that joining relevant network groups will help to get the Soho House name more associated with female talent. Improving equality is part of our Food & Drink 2018 agenda, and a focus in the recruitment for White City House.

But when it comes to advice for women starting out, we return to the point that what you do, not who you are, is important. “For me the most important thing is that you should have love for the food,” says Bruna. “Be passionate about what you are doing, and you will be successful.”

Soho House & Co is now recruiting chefs of all levels. To view and apply for roles, visit jobs.sohohouse.com






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