Austin CC’s Executive Sous Chef Eva Barrios, CEC, encourages chefs to look past their team members’ gender and instead focus on each individual’s strengths and skills.
I have spent many years working in professional kitchens. One topic I consistently hear from my female coworkers is how hard it can be to be a woman in this industry. They feel they are not respected and not taken seriously. They think they have a disadvantage because they are perceived as being weaker than their male counterparts. They have to be conscious of how they present themselves because they feel that if they act in a certain way, they will be judged for being a woman.
These situations can make them stronger or it can break them down to the point where they decide to change careers.
While it’s challenging to be a women in a professional kitchen, I know it can be difficult for men as well. I hope both men and women can take something from this blog to encourage them in their professional lives.
It is clear that men and women are not the same by nature. We all have strengths and weaknesses that have no basis on gender. Successful chefs should leverage those differences so that each team can work collaboratively to create a successful and diverse operation.
Since starting my culinary career in 2002, I have never once thought that being a woman put me at a disadvantage. Twelve years later, I stand by that belief. I don’t see myself as a “female in the kitchen” or see my peers as men or women. I have always seen us as cooks and chefs working in the same kitchen, as one team. From day one I worked hard and proved that I was capable of doing what was what necessary, regardless of my gender, utilizing my skills and abilities as a professional.
When I first moved to the United States, I couldn’t speak English. I felt that the only thing standing in the way of my dream to becoming a chef was the language barrier. I knew if I wanted to succeed in this country and accomplish my dreams, I had to learn the language. Once I had the language skills, it was up to me to go as far as I wanted to go. I was determined to reach my goals, never once getting discouraged. I knew other chefs were getting better opportunities because they could speak English so I went to work. I went to free language classes. I watched only English-speaking TV shows. I built relationships with people I knew would help me through the learning progress. Within a year I was able to hold a conversation. I was finally able to enroll in culinary school and I eventually became an ACF apprentice. I never saw my native language as a disadvantage to me. I saw the English language as a chance to grow and a stepping stone toward achieving my goals. Because of this, my ability to speak Spanish and English is invaluable to my position as an Executive Sous Chef here at Austin Country Club. It sets me apart from other chefs in an important and useful way.
I believe the same mentality can be applied to gender differences.
In the past, I have been in situations that were uncomfortable or unprofessional, but I was able to use those situations to make myself smarter and stronger and to ensure they didn’t happen again. Just keep in mind that other peoples’ actions are not a reflection of you—they are a reflection of that person’s insecurities.
We (men and women) are incredible at what we do, and we do it well. We are all here for the same purpose; to be the best we can be and share our passion, vision, and creativity through food. Chefs, let’s shift our focus from the gender issue and allow our creativity, our craftsmanship, and vision speak for themselves.