Women in the kitchen

As Burger King tweeted today, ‘women belong in the kitchen but if they want to be”.

Whether a chef, cook, team player or solo business owner, women have been slowly reclaiming their space in kitchens all over the world. No longer a bastion of over-worked, over-hyped male culinary egos, women have been re-thinking how they run kitchens, the impact on their teams, and how to create spaces that offer both guests and staff, a different kind of environment to the loud, fast, often aggressive kitchen cultures of recent years. 

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we asked the unsung heroes of women in Bristol food, those whose hard work often goes unnoticed, how they feel about their industry, their food, and what wisdom they want to pass on to other women looking towards a career in hospitality. 

Monica Patel-Campbell Naasto Baasto 

Monica started her Gujurati food popup in 2017, using words her grandfather used to sing (she says Gujarati people love rhyming and she doesn’t know why!). Before Covid, she enjoyed stints in kitchens around Bristol, including the Robin Hood and the Volunteer Tavern. 

As a popup owner, her role encompasses everything from chef to pot wash, but she has taken on help (usually from other women in the industry) for her more challenging residencies. Monica has the Bristol food scene to be incredibly supportive, with people very willing to share knowledge, ingredients and equipment to help each other out. 

Monica is passionate about keeping her recipes and food as authentic as possible. She describes her food as an extension of herself, her history and her cultural story. She is not afraid of fiercely pushing back when asked to Westernise, or avoid using the Gujurati words for her dishes.

All her dishes were taught via her matriarchal line, and continuing the tradition is very important to her. She still calls her mum when she needs help with a recipe! 

Born and raised in the Midlands, Gujarati food is easy to find and very popular, but she found that Bristol had very little knowledge of Gujarati cuisine. She loves bringing the Indian food she grew up with to the city. As Bristol Sweetmart is run by a Gujarati family, she loves having access to a taste of home when she doesn’t feel like cooking. 

In the future, she hopes to take Naasto Baasto on the road and start trading at markets. Her message to women looking to come into the food industry is:

 “Be bold and make space for yourself, you are just as entitled to be here as anyone else.” 

Tucha Pinto Leite – Sunday Roasts at Pipe and Slippers 

Tucha came to Bristol via London, from Portugal back in the 90s without a formal cooking education. Instead of heading to a culinary school, she learned to cook from her mother, and often catered for friends after a late night out.

Her first job in Bristol was working at Cafe Delphine on Stokes Croft. The cafe was a rare find back then, with Tucha shopping locally, choosing fantastic produce from the local markets, and serving proper home-cooked, nourishing food to customers. 

As similar cafes started to pop up locally, Tuscha threw herself into her Portuguese street food business and worked in pub kitchens before eventually settling at the Pipe and Slippers, prepping and cooking her incredible Sunday Lunches. 

Despite having to take a break from cooking after being diagnosed with lung cancer a few years ago, Tucha is back lugging 25kg sacks of potatoes, and almost single-handedly running the kitchen on Sundays. She is still passionate about her produce and handpicks every ingredient she uses. 

She describes her past working in an all-female kitchen as incredibly calm and collaborative with the team always being naturally supportive. When it comes to women in hospitality, Tucha says that she must thank her partner at the time for taking on lots of childcare and household duties, while she worked long and physically hard days. Men holding things down at home was virtually unheard of back when she was running Cafe Delphine.

As someone completely self-taught her advice to other women is:

  “Find a way to follow your passion that works for you. You don’t need a professional food education, or to follow the straight path of a restaurant kitchen, to achieve a great career in cheffing.”

Charity Vincent – Papadeli 

Charity has been the head pastry chef at Papadeli for the last six years, creating beautiful cakes and desserts for the popular Clifton-deli and catering business. Many of the creations you find on the cake counter are her own recipes. 

The most important thing when it comes to being a pastry chef is taste, but the second most important thing is the visual impact.  As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, Charity is always pushing herself to create gorgeous looking products. She loves keeping her eye on the latest trends and recreating them, as well as helping to realise the visions of customers ordering bespoke cakes. 

In 2021 Charity is excited for the Spring reopening, and is raring to go! She feels very ready to get back and firing on all cylinders. The lockdown has been hard both mentally and physically, so planning ahead for events and customers has been really welcome. 

Charity looks to her own mother as her inspiration and credits her work ethic to her mother who runs a pub kitchen, often single-handedly. She has been helping her mother through lockdown, and has found the experience really rewarding. 

When it comes to women in hospitality, Charity is excited to see more and more women choosing to join her in the field. She loves that many of the independent businesses in Bristol are headed-up by women, who are passionate about what they do and often juggle a family at the same time. 

She says that women especially seem to have a steely determination to keep pushing through times of feast and famine, and last year has really held that up to be true. Her tip is to “never underestimate the power of pastry!”

Lorna Coombs – St. Mary’s Kitchen 

Lorna has traded as St. Mary’s Kitchen since December 2018, opening her restaurant in 2020, cooking the food she grew up eating, which comes with heaps of flavour inspiration stemming from her Jamaican/Indian heritage. 

Lorna was taught to cook by her mother and grandmother, who insisted she watched and learned. Something she is very grateful for now. She has vivid memories of the sights and smells of beautiful home-cooked food, made with spices and herbs ground on the kitchen’s masala stone. 

Lorna is passionate about all her dishes looking and tasting great, and ensuring the produce she uses is the very best that she can find. She wants each customer to leave feeling full and happy, and knowing that the food leaving her kitchen is consistently good. 

She is cautiously looking forward to 2021. With so much unpredictability so far, she is just hoping she can reopen her doors to sit down guests new and old who are looking for “flava from Jamaica”. 

When it comes to being a woman in the kitchen, Lorna believes that planning ahead has enabled her to work ‘smarter, not harder,’ as well as having bundles of positive energy. She has put a lot of effort into being good with her time management and it’s helped her run a successful business. For women looking to get into the industry, she simply encourages you to 

“believe in yourself!” 

Maddie Crombie – The Gallimaufry 

Maddie has been the head chef at The Gallimaufry for the last four years after working for 18months as the CDP, with a CV that includes kitchens in Brighton and Auckland, New Zealand. 

She is passionate about good produce, favouring suppliers that have the same love for their ingredients as she does. She believes ingredients should tell a story about their seasonality and provenance, and she knows that this is what makes them really sing on the plate. 

Maddie has been cooking throughout lockdown providing nutritious meals for both Bristol Food Union, and the Cheers Drive initiative, feeding vulnerable families in Bristol. She is excited to get back to cooking for customers at the award-winning pub, and spending time with colleagues, friends and family. 

Maddie thinks that the gender balance in professional kitchens is slowly improving, but she really wants to see an equal representation of men and women going forwards. She believes this will come as we develop more inclusive and nurturing kitchen environments, where individual passion and creativity is allowed to shine through 

Leona Williamson – St Werburghs City Farm Cafe

Leona set up St Werburghs City Farm Cafe in 2005, with the intention of creating a local food network of great suppliers. Inspired by the quote  “let food be thy medicine”, the cafe’s decision-making is underpinned by a strong set of ethics, which intend to have a minimal negative impact on Mother Nature. 

To do this, Leona looks at all aspects of the business, from ingredients, to her choice of banking partner. She is passionate about reducing the use of chemicals in farming, and avoids produce from chemical agriculture in any of the food they grow and serve. Leona describes the whole cafe experience, as being “an incredible learning journey,” and a great platform from which to share the foods that excite her taste buds. 

For the last three years, Leona has had a full female kitchen team, and they are growing more of their own ingredients. The team are really excited to be able to offer food that has been nurtured from seed to plate. 

Leona’s food interests over the last few years have been focused on soil, the microbiome, medicinal herbs and foraged foods, like seaweeds and fungi. She shares her ever-expanding knowledge through products like her turkey tail (a type of mushroom), chai, beetroot and ginger kombucha, and buckwheat and kefir pancakes with roast rhubarb, elderberry and honey syrup.

Feature Image from Heartfelt Vintage, a women owned business making incredible cream teas as well as stocking beautiful wedding dresses and vintage clothing.