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Three inspiring chefs changing the role of SA women in cheffing

These SA Chefs Association board members are ensuring women in hospitality kitchens are heard. Hilary Biller spoke to them

07 August 2022 - 00:00
Chef Candice Adams.
Chef Candice Adams.
Image: C&D Heierli Photography


Director, South African Chefs Association (SA Chefs); Capsicum Culinary Studio, operations manager amd academic

I didn’t plan to go into the food industry, but loved cooking from a young age. Later, watching Chef Heston Blumenthal on TV was an absolute inspiration, as was the amazing world of molecular gastronomy. I became obsessed.

I wanted to be a forensic pathologist, but my dad steered me in a different direction. I have no regrets and love every experience, and the different opportunities I’ve been exposed to. My path in the industry hasn’t been one-dimensional; rather, one that constantly changes and keeps me interested.

In SA we are not at the point of equal opportunities in the cheffing industry. Yes, we have evolved and more female chefs are being celebrated, like the chef/owner of Emazulwini restaurant, Mmabatho Molefe, who was recently named a hospitality pioneer on The World’s 50 Best 50 Next list. It’s exciting to think we’ve come this far, though not far enough ... we are getting there. It is a slow transformation as women face many prejudices in hospitality kitchens; it's a tough environment for female chefs.

The aim of the South African Chefs Association, established in 1974, is to uplift and protect members in the hospitality industry. Our role is doing what we can do for the association and the members. For a long time it was ‘an old boys' club’ and wasn’t a place for progression and transformation. The leadership has worked to bring it to where it is today.   

Chef Sarah Gray of SA Chefs implemented the Women in Culinary initiative to uplift and empower women in the industry, creating a space for them to reach out for help, covering issues of gender-based violence and sexual harassment. And continuing this work we three feisty female chefs on the SA Chefs board — myself, Pinky Maruping and Jocelyn Myers-Adams — give the boys a run for their money.

One piece of advice I wish I was told before entering this industry was that I was enough. Women have a tendency to make themselves small and go unnoticed as we don’t believe we have the potential to be good enough. Growing up, my father was incredibly encouraging and made sure I was strong and knew I could succeed and become successful.

Working alongside the new Generation Z at Capsicum Culinary Studio I’ve discovered youngsters have a much greater sense of tolerance. It's the first generation finding its voice in the industry, which, in the past, would never have been heard.

Chef Pinky Linah Maruping.
Chef Pinky Linah Maruping.
Image: Supplied


Vice-president, South African Chefs Association; Culinary chef experience adviser, Gauteng Unilever Food Solutions

What inspired me to make a career in the food industry? It was my dad who used to cook up a storm and his food was delicious. After school I started with a bridging course, then did a diploma in food service management. From there I attended Prue Leith College and qualified with a national diploma in food and wine.

My first job was at Irene Country Lodge as a chef de partie and I was the only woman alongside the scullers in the kitchen. One thing that was an advantage, as it was a new establishment, was everybody was new and starting out together, and I discovered my foundation of good training prepared me well for the challenges I would encounter.

Women entering the hospitality industry often end up doing the menial jobs and are not promoted as men are. We women don’t get the titles or the recognition in this industry and have become tired of trying to prove our worth. Many talented women leave the industry to start their own businesses, like catering. The SA hospitality industry is definitely lagging behind in the number of female executive chefs represented in our hotels and top restaurants.

My portfolio as vice-president of SA Chefs is as communications director. Communication is vital. I believe it is the women who make the association more visible and, today, SA Chefs is alive. In the past, as a chef working in the industry, I knew little about the association apart from as a member paying annual subscriptions.

We are working at developing a safer place for women and creating an understanding of the challenges they face in the industry. Women experience verbal and physical abuse and sexual assault, which has, in the past, been swept under the carpet. We need to empower women to stand up and speak up as we strive to ensure they know their rights when entering the industry.

We should be celebrating women every day, except so many are exposed to gender-based violence and bullying in the workplace. And how many are sexually abused and raped? It’s so sad, as nothing ever happens to change these terrible statistics.  

My advice to young women entering the industry is know your self-worth. Go out there with confidence, believe in yourself and be aware of the pitfalls in the industry, identify them and nip them in the bud. Learn to speak up before it boils over.

Chef Jocelyn Myers-Adams.
Chef Jocelyn Myers-Adams.
Image: C&D Heierli Photography


Director, South African Chefs Association, Food Jams and JMA Hospitality

I’m Canadian. I left Canada 16 years ago and worked all over the world before settling in SA. Though I studied law, I’ve been in love with food forever, but never considered it as a career until my father geared me towards applying for a bursary to go to chef school. I must mention my grandmother, a big influence in my life, I was always cooking with her. She was very kind and patient.

I’m passionate about my job and never regretted it until the pandemic. The past two years have been very challenging.

Globally I have found women are held back in the hospitality industry, yet there is room everywhere in the world for female chefs to be pushed forward. Women bring a sense of community into the workplace, caring for the people around them and finding ways of including people.

It’s interesting that the perception is the professional kitchen is reserved for men and the household kitchen is the preserve of women. I look forward to the day when men and women enjoy preparing the meal together.

In Abu Dhabi I met the head of the US Chefs Association, the first female in the role, so SA is not so far behind.

I was very lucky to join the regional committee as chair of SA Chefs in the Cape five years ago and I loved working with the support of the committee. Officially I was brought onto the board at the beginning of this year and do a bit of everything, from handling the restaurant portfolio, sustainability, wellness and culture. Creating a sense of pride and developing skills in championing women empowerment really interests me.

We three women on the SA Chefs Association board are a show of the growth in the space and we ensure attention is paid to women in the industry who don’t have a voice. More female representation creates an opportunity for women in the industry to be heard.

Women's Day is a great idea. Yet a day where everything appears to be more supportive of women feels like a Band-Aid. It should be a day used to implement more policies and programmes around women for women.

The best advice I’ve carried with me came from a funny Frenchman, Jacques, who taught me at chef school. He would say, 'Just do your best and forget all the rest. Don’t worry about other people, do what you know in your heart is right.'


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