Only 13% of those who lead the charge in SA’s top kitchens are women

Women are still having to prove themselves in professional kitchens. The good news is things might be about to change

21 February 2019 - 10:33 By sylvia mckeown
Forbes reported last year that less than 7% of chefs and restaurateurs in the world are women.
Forbes reported last year that less than 7% of chefs and restaurateurs in the world are women.
Image: 123RF/kzenon

According to Google, an oft-searched question is, “What’s a female chef called?” My guess would be “longsuffering”.

Forbes reported last year that less than 7% of chefs and restaurateurs in USA are women, showing that gender imbalance is not limited to boardrooms. And SA’s professional kitchens are not exempt.

FOOD XX, a platform focused on empowering women in SA's food and drinks industry, recently released a report saying that out of the 30 nominees for South Africa’s Top Restaurant at the 2018 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards, only four had a woman in the role of head chef, making up only a 13% slice of the cake.

These women are:

  • Chantel Dartnall, owner and head chef of Restaurant Mosaic at The Orient in Pretoria, who once reigned as best female chef in the world.
  • Kayla-Ann Osborn, executive head chef at The Chef’s Table in Umhlanga, who won Eat Out’s Rising Star award in 2017.
  • Hilde-Lee Olivier, who was recently named head chef at Jardine Restaurant in Stellenbosch.
  • Fernanda Cardoso, the newly appointed head chef at Chef’s Warehouse & Canteen in Cape Town.
Chantel Dartnall.
Chantel Dartnall.
Image: Supplied

Why are there so few women in head chef roles? “I suppose because traditional restaurant kitchens mirror the politics of race, class and gender that you find in broader society,” posits anthropologist, author and chef Anna Trapido. "If anything, restaurant kitchens are slightly worse than broader society because they are modelled on 19th-century military brigades. There are women who rise in such a context but they are relatively few and far between.”

Even when looking beyond Eat Out’s purview, FOOD XX found the percentage of female head chefs was only slightly higher. And let’s not even get started on the severe lack of opportunities for female chefs of colour.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. FOOD XX's report found in the lower echelons of kitchens, among the hands who actually make the food that lands at your table, there is a 50-50 gender split. Encouragingly, in some local kitchens more than 70% are female.

“So while there’s much room for change at the top — where the most decisions and money is made — the research provides some hope for this to happen sooner rather than later,” the report reads.


Last week, FOOD XX held an awards ceremony to honour female trailblazers in our local culinary industry. It was a wonderful to see those who have had a marked influence on SA's food landscape, but who are seldom recognised, holding up large trophies.

Awards were given in 15 categories, ranging from food styling to alcohol production.

Sustainability award winner, Roushanna Grey of Veld and Sea
Sustainability award winner, Roushanna Grey of Veld and Sea
Image: Kate McLuckie

Roushanna Gray, founder of foraging studio Veld and Sea at Cape Point in Cape Town, took home the Sustainability Award. She wrote on Instagram: “It’s been a long and slow and beautiful journey for Veld and Sea to have gotten to where it is today and it’s such a special feeling for hard work to be acknowledged."

This was the first of what is to be a yearly event which will hopefully lead to more opportunities for women in local kitchens.

“We make up more than half of the population in SA,” says Food XX founder Hannerie Visser of Studio H, “so women have the collective power to affect stock markets, policies, corporate and creative industries - so let’s do this!”

If you want to join the Food XX movement, or find out more, go to