Women chefs on the line.

ICE’s Women Chef-Instructors Reflect on Their Time in the Industry

What’s it like to be a woman in the food and beverage industry? There are as many answers to that as there are female cooks. 

The professional kitchen has always been an environment where women have fought for their place.

Through many incredible female mentors, progressive kitchen environments and legal protections put into action over the last several decades, the culinary industry is slowly becoming more welcoming to female and BIPOC culinary professionals, bit by bit.

Below some of our own ICE Chef-Instructors share their experiences of what it takes to build a career as a female cook.

What has your journey been like as a woman in the industry?

Chef Luisa DeGirolamo, Chef-Instructor, Pastry & Baking Arts

“My journey as a female chef has been quite the roller coaster ride. I have endured praise matched with prejudice, spending most of my time with my 'kitchen family' while sacrificing time needed with my children and loved ones, living to learn, working the hardest and making others happy, all the while forgetting to learn to live my own life and lead my own happiness. And somehow, it has all been worth the risk because through all my sacrifices I have become stronger and more aware of myself and what I can do mentally and physically.”

Chef Missy Smith-Chapman, Lead Chef-Instructor, Pastry & Baking Arts & Plant-Based Culinary Arts

"There are so many women who I want to thank who have paved my path. Women who allowed me opportunities that they did not have. In turn, I have made opportunities for future generations. Women in this industry fight really hard — whether it's becoming a chef, or owning a business or being a manager.  Wherever you fit in this industry we have to be really strong. I want to thank all those women who came before me for helping me along the way."

Chef Celine Beitchman, Director of Nutrition

“Challenging, for sure. But not unlike any other cook’s journey. The culinary industry is a demanding space — mentally and physically. It takes a kind of resilience that comes through lived experiences. But, I have been fortunate enough to work with great mentors and leaders who valued the work above anything else, people who didn’t treat me like a woman, just a curious hard-working cook in their ranks.”

Chef Kierin Baldwin, Chef-Instructor, Pastry & Baking Arts

“I have been lucky to work in places that had women in the kitchen from the start of my career, though there has always been — and still remains — a lack of women in back-of-house upper management roles. Pastry departments are a notable exception to this since there are generally more women in pastry and a lot more ending up running that department.

I personally found parts of my transition from being a cook to being in management quite hard because some of the skills that I had needed to hold my own as a female cook suddenly became liabilities when I was dealing with those who were above me in the kitchen hierarchy. I learned to really hold my space and have an assertive voice in the kitchen which kept me around my peers, but there was suddenly a different sort of subtle sexism that punished that same behavior as I started to be in management roles. I had to really pay attention to how I was voicing my opinion and try to predict how other people would receive what I was saying in order to survive.

It was infuriating to be quite honest, and something none of the folks I was struggling to interact with seemed to be aware of or would admit to. All of these men who I was dealing with would think of themselves as open-minded and supporters of women in the kitchen, but the fact was that women were subtly held to different standards than men were. 

It was when I started planning to have kids that I finally hit my limit on the lifestyle I had been living. There was really no give working in the middle management role I had, and I didn’t feel particularly supported in trying to find the type of work-life balance I needed to start a family. That’s when I made the decision to transition out of the restaurant world and begin teaching — a role that I really love.

I do think these attitudes have changed somewhat in the years since I have transitioned into teaching, but I don't think they’re gone. They are pernicious because they are so subtle. And unfortunately, plenty of women have internalized some of these attitudes, too.

Is the playing field different for women now than when you entered the industry?

Chef Kierin Baldwin, Chef-Instructor, Pastry & Baking Arts

“Yes, mostly because a lot more women are in ownership and upper management roles now. And a lot of the bad behavior that used to just get written off as part of the industry is not at all tolerated. Having more women in the kitchen makes it better for women who are in the kitchen, and we'll all keep pushing this industry towards parity just by showing up.”

Chef Olivia Roszkowski, Plant-Based Culinary Arts

“I’m a big fan of our industry and love to see it constantly evolve — especially with the advent of social media in recent years. I am especially happy to see that a larger percentage of externship sites are now compensating our graduates for their time.

I aim to create an environment in my culinary classroom where students do not feel intimidated and always feel comfortable asking questions. I can only hope that I am imprinting a standard for them in their future work relationships.”

Chef Celine Beitchman, Director of Nutrition

“Definitely. There are a lot more women cooking professionally and at very high levels. I think that makes it much easier for women entering the culinary field to see themselves doing the same.”

Chef Missy Smith-Chapman, Lead Chef-Instructor, Pastry & Baking Arts & Plant-Based Culinary Arts

"I think that it is becoming such a wonderful place for women to work. When I first started, I thought that women made up maybe 10 percent of the workforce. Now, I think the latest numbers are closer to 48 percent. So we've certainly come a long way.

I want all of these future generations to pave a path for even future generations beyond them. It's a great responsibility and we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard because of it. I want future generations to embrace this industry and be really powerful women together to promote women, stand up for each other and really care about each other. That's what we need to do as culinarians and people who are in the culinary industry."

What advice do you have for aspiring female chefs?

Chef Emilie Berner, Chef-Instructor, Plant-Based Culinary Arts

"If you look at the statistics, there are still fewer women chefs than men. It is grueling work, it is lots of hours on your feet. Things are heavy, things are hot. It's an environment that, in general, is male-dominated. The advice that I have is really foster and honor our differences. If we need help, don't be afraid to ask and it's okay, it doesn't make you lesser-than or anything like that, just because a pot might be too heavy for you to carry that day. I would say don't be afraid to ask for help and celebrate your differences."

Chef Carrie Smith, Chef-Instructor, Plant-Based Culinary Arts & Pastry & Baking Arts

"Find where is the most applicable for you, whether that's in a culinary school or a mentorship program, and really find what you're going to get the most out of. Don't be afraid to ask questions and support each other. One of the biggest things I tell all my students is that right now is the present, and we call it the present because it's a gift. We're only here for such a tiny, short little window, so soak up as much as you can and absorb it. Have fun with everything that you learn and then share it. Pay it forward as you go off in the industry."

Chef Olivia Roszkowski, Chef-Instructor, Plant-Based Culinary Arts

“One of my chef-instructors, Jay Weinstein, used to always say that it is important to align yourself with professionals who take an interest in your career and are invested in your success. This advice has guided me well over the past 14 years.

I think it is important to devote adequate time to the trailing process to match yourself with a compatible kitchen. Take into account logistics such as scheduling and commute times, as entering any new field can be exciting but also physically and mentally taxing.”

Chef Luisa DeGirolamo, Chef-Instructor, Pastry & Baking Arts

“Best advice given to me that I pass on to other female cooks would be to be willing to do anything and expect nothing.”

Chef Celine Beitchman, Director of Nutrition

“Do your best and keep showing up. There is constant learning to be had. Look for the most talented person in the kitchen and model yourself after that. It could be your chef or another cook in the kitchen. Keep that in mind wherever you go.”

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