'It's no longer a man's world': fierce female chefs are owning SA kitchens

Female chefs who are making waves on the Joburg food scene tell us what it takes to rise to the top of this largely male-dominated industry

09 August 2018 - 00:00 By Belinda Mountain
Candice Philip, head chef at Grei restaurant at the Saxon Hotel.
Candice Philip, head chef at Grei restaurant at the Saxon Hotel.
Image: Supplied

Highly experienced and award-winning, Candice Philip, head chef at Grei restaurant at the five-star Saxon Hotel, is known for her calm demeanour and laser focus. But being the best requires a certain kind of mindset. “Women are often not seen as being strong enough to manage a kitchen, so it’s important to show that you are tough enough to withstand the industry,” says Candice.

In a largely male-dominated environment, it’s vital that female chefs don’t give up. “That’s self-defeating… you can’t control what happens but you can control how you let it affect you,” she says.

Beatrix Thornhill, head chef at EB Social Kitchen & Bar at Hyde Park Corner, shares similar insights, “I think the biggest challenge is to gain respect – we work just as hard as the guys … maybe harder too.”

She reiterates that you need to be tough, on yourself as well as others. “Prove people wrong – if they tell you that you’re not going to make it, make it 10 times better than they thought it would be.”

Beatrix Thornhill, head chef at EB Social Kitchen & Bar.
Beatrix Thornhill, head chef at EB Social Kitchen & Bar.
Image: Supplied
Jill Okkers, the executive development chef for Tashas.
Jill Okkers, the executive development chef for Tashas.
Image: Supplied

Jill Okkers is the executive development chef for Tashas, which has 16 stores throughout South Africa and three stores in the United Arab Emirates. She agrees that the food industry is an extremely demanding one. “I feel that going into this career really needs to be something that you want with your entire being. Know that time and hard work, determination and drive will be what make you succeed.”

But what unique attributes do women bring to the table? Candice says women have a different touch. “We see things from a different perspective − for me that certainly bodes in our favour.”

Beatrix comments that female chefs have “finesse and a gentler style on plates”.

And what about other women in food to watch? Candice mentions Megan Meikle, their pastry chef at Grei, and Lisa de Beer from LBV restaurant in Sandton as rising stars.

While both Beatrix and Jill site South Africa’s Chef of the Year Chantel Dartnall as an inspiration. “She’s a phenomenal example of the harder you push yourself, the better you get,” says Beatrix.

Jill mentions her own boss, Natasha Sideris, who she describes as “a powerhouse”. “Working with her has been rewarding and completely eye-opening,” says Jill.

Perhaps Beatrix sums it up best saying, “It’s no longer a man’s world, it’s a shared world, and more women are realising this difference and assuming positions of power in the kitchen.” Sounds good to us.


This article was originally published in the Sunday Times Neighbourhood: Property and Lifestyle guide. Visit Yourneighbourhood.co.za


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