Rhodevale pork farmer Melinda Murnane with some of her landrace and large white pigs on her property west of Gympie. Picture: Lachie Millard
Rhodevale pork farmer Melinda Murnane with some of her landrace and large white pigs on her property west of Gympie. Picture: Lachie Millard

Women’s place in restaurant kitchen

A WOMAN'S place is in the kitchen - or so the controversial old saying would have you believe.

But when it comes to commercial kitchens, they have long been a man's domain.

From line cooks to executive chefs, cafes to fine diners, the culinary world is dominated by men - with roughly four male chefs to every one female.

But this year's Noosa Food and Wine festival is out to prove that while blokes may make up the bulk of the pan rattlers, women are an equal force to be reckoned with.

For the first time, the Sunshine Coast culinary event, which runs from May 17-20, will hold three events celebrating women in food.

The first is in conjunction with WoHo - Australia's not-for-profit association supporting women in hospitality - and will feature Momofoku restaurant manager Kylie Javier Ashton, and chefs Emma McCaskill (The Pot, Adelaide), Jo Barrett (Oakridge, Yarra Valley) and Lauren Eldridge (Stokehouse, Melbourne and Brisbane).

While the other two lunches will be at Peregian Beach's Pitchfork Restaurant and aim to shine a spotlight on the wonderful work of not only former Queenslander and head chef at Sydney's acclaimed Saint Peter restaurant Alanna Sapwell and celebrity chef and master of spice Christine Manfield, but also female producers, including pig farmers, berry growers and spanner crab catchers.

Kim Galea at her Peregian Beach restaurant Pitchfork. Picture: Lachie Millard
Kim Galea at her Peregian Beach restaurant Pitchfork. Picture: Lachie Millard

"It's wonderful. Women all over the world are farming and are cooking and we've always been part of everything, but to have that little bit of recognition, it's quite special," says Melinda Murnane of Rhodavale Pork, northwest of Gympie.

Murnane, along with husband Brad, breeds free-range, pasture-fed pigs, which will feature as entrees at the Pitchfork events.

Murnane says women are at the forefront of many farming practices and believes it's about time they were seen.

"I would be encouraging these women to take an extra step forward," she says.

"It's women who are behind a lot of the innovation in farming. They're taking things to the next level - the new ideas, the thinking outside the box.

"I think it's just a matter of those women taking a front seat and making themselves known."

Heidi Walker, co-owner of Mooloolaba-based Walker Seafoods Australia, which supplies seafood to the finest restaurants all over the world, agrees.

"Women are seen more as the backbone of a lot of these businesses, so I think it's time that there's a greater focus on the women in agribusiness and the roles that we play," she says.

Walker, who will be supplying her award-winning fish to two of the Noosa Food and Wine lunches, says women bring a lot to the table when it comes to agribusinesses and can offer skills men often can't.

Walker Seafoods Australia’s Heidi Walker on the pier at Mooloolaba with a freshly caught 70kg MSC certified yellowfin tuna. Picture: Lachie Millard
Walker Seafoods Australia’s Heidi Walker on the pier at Mooloolaba with a freshly caught 70kg MSC certified yellowfin tuna. Picture: Lachie Millard

"I think women juggle very well and are highly organised and bring a sense of calm to what can be a volatile business - it can be very up and down any day," she says.

Having come from a corporate background in sales, Walker says the food industry is one that can use skills from many other backgrounds, while offering women great challenges.

"It's so great and you're dealing with all sorts of people and it's a steep learning curve every day of the week," she says.

"I'm dealing selling fish into Seattle and New York and LA as well as Rockpool and St Peter and Tetsuya's (all in Sydney) and it can be glamorous and it can also be very dirty as well, standing there grading fish with blood and guts all over the floor. But that's all part of the day."

Walker hopes having Noosa Food and Wine showcase the work of producers like herself will encourage other women to enter the industry.

"We've got a management team here and we've got 60 crew and staff and we need a whole team to run that including everything from the office to social media and marketing," she says.

"There are so many different areas that you can be represented in."

Kim Galea, co-owner of Pitchfork which will host two of the women in food events, says for her, there's never been a more important time to showcase females in the industry and encourage more women to join the profession.

"My husband and I are both chefs. While doing our apprenticeships it seemed a pretty equal amount of both sexes at our work places and college (but) now we don't get a great deal of female applicants," she says.

Walker Seafoods Australia’s Heidi Walker on the pier at Mooloolaba with a freshly caught 70kg MSC certified yellowfin tuna. Picture: Lachie Millard
Walker Seafoods Australia’s Heidi Walker on the pier at Mooloolaba with a freshly caught 70kg MSC certified yellowfin tuna. Picture: Lachie Millard

 

"I think it is important to encourage both female and male chefs in the industry. We need a balance of both.

"Showcasing female talent in a food festival will hopefully bring awareness and encouragement to younger up-and-coming chefs and apprentices that this is an industry with a future and there are many ways to branch out into different career opportunities."

Galea believes that these Noosa festival events will help show women that hospitality is an industry that's "not just for males".

"If we've got some more females that look at it and they can see that there's a lot of female celebrity chefs as well, it looks like a career that's approachable and doable and they may start to look into that at high school," she says.

"I think if something like this could just start and be a bit more of an equal demographic I hope - big dreams - there might be a big change in the way we perceive the industry as well.

"They (talented female chefs) are all out there, it's just that they're not really shown, so if we can show them then we might get more up-and-coming female chefs and higher wages."

Sapwell, whose first job as a chef was in Noosa, agrees and says it's wonderful to see the festival encouraging equal opportunity.

"If profiling women in the industry encourages young women to consider cheffing as a career, I couldn't be more encouraging of it," the Saint Peter, Sydney chef says.

"I'm a strong believer in equal opportunity, so if you work hard and lead by example you'll attract the right people."



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