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Stirring The Pot

Emma Macdonald

Women have historically been consigned to the kitchen.

Or at least relegated to serving food and drink—yet few have traditionally reached positions of power, self-determination and creativity in the male-dominated restaurant and beverage industry.

Here are four Canberra women who are causing a stir.

JANET JEFFS

Janet Jeffs

Janet Jeffs

JANET JEFFS has strong opinions on women in professional kitchens. The industry stalwart, director and executive chef of Ginger Catering at the National Arboretum, has amassed six chef hats in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide over her 40-year career.

She could “write a treatise” on the gender imbalance she has witnessed over four decades in hospitality and one can only imagine how difficult it must have been forging a career when she got her first break in 1976 as an apprentice to Cheong Liew at Adelaide’s famed Neddy’s Restaurant.

Instead of dwelling on the male dominance she had to navigate, Janet has looked to great women chefs, cooks and food writers like Elizabeth David, Julia Child, Margaret Fulton and Maggie Beer “to challenge these ideas of domination”.

And she has, in turn, helped forge a path supporting other women to rise within the industry.

But she is also philosophical about it, noting hospitality is no different to, say, the corporate world, academia—or life, really.

“Women in hospitality would map the same struggle that women have had forever and a day for any sort of equality.”

Meanwhile, Janet offers a sage observation on the true nature of the work and an indication of her deep commitment to the industry.

“There’s no romance in what we do as chefs, no celebrity, despite what TV will tell you. It’s hard professional work. I’m committed to my craft, and teaching my apprentices, and there have been very many. I’m committed to my suppliers, farmers and customers who have a sovereign right to good, clean, fair food, and I’m up for a good long fight to protect that.”

“The key to manifesting a working environment that attracts and retains chefs is treating them as individuals. The industry needs to work on its representation, conditions and image to achieve a truly diverse workforce. Hopefully before too long, this point will no longer need to be made.”

KATE HIBBERSON

Kate Hibberson

Kate Hibberson

KATE HIBBERSON has had to confront not only a gender bias in being a wine expert, but also an age bias.

The 32-year old is a sommelier and helps run Mount Majura Vineyard. But on any given week you may find her talking—or pouring—wine at the vineyard, The Boat House, or Pod Food, which she and her husband John Leverink have run for seven years.

While Kate is ably experienced and qualified—she is currently completing her Wine Spirit Education Trust Level 4 Diploma with the Sydney Wine Academy and holds a Bachelor of Tourism Management from the University of Canberra—she has been challenged on her abilities.

“I would say that when I began as an assistant manager at The Boat House (when I was younger), it was more about the customers not respecting me as a woman in my position. Often people would go to the male casual staff who would then kindly point to me.”

Kate learned early to “over-prepare and brief for every event so that men in charge that might look past me learnt they could trust in my abilities. But I don’t think I would have had to work as hard to earn that trust as a male.”

As for her colleagues, she is happy to report “I have worked with and for some great men and I don’t think my gender has ever held me back.”

And if any customers need convincing, Kate has recently passed all her tasting and theory exams, including blind-tasting 12 wines, determining their vintage and provenance, then writing a dissertation on their aromas, flavours, structure, and quality. She wouldn’t put such work and hours into her profession were it not for an all-consuming passion.

“My world these days revolves around wine—I love that wine combines history, culture, geography and pleasure.”

Kate has also witnessed a greater gender balance in the industry the longer she works in it.

“Certainly as a sommelier it was a very male-dominated role in the past. But with my current studies, there seems to be an even distribution of males and females studying and taking on the roles.”

“There’s no romance in what we do as chefs, no celebrity, despite what TV will tell you. It’s hard professional work.” Janet Jeffs.

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TRACEY MARGRAIN

Tracy Margrain

Tracy Margrain

YOU MIGHT ASSUME the world of beer would be a tough one to crack into for women.

But Tracy Margrain has found her career in owning and running a brewery has been one relatively free from gender constraints. In fact, Tracy has taken great pleasure from watching other talented Canberra women get a foothold in the local beer scene as it grows in national stature.

Tracey dipped her toe in the cider—which she helped crush—when she began working at the Wig and Pen after she finished college. She then spent a decade of running a landscaping company before returning to beer in 2013 when she and her partner Richard started up the Braddon beer phenomenon that is BentSpoke Brewing Co.

Tracy has also completed a commercial cookery course and a diploma of hospitality management.

“I have worked in every aspect of the business at BentSpoke since it opened. I have been a door person, cook, bar person, stock controller, cider crusher. Since Mitchell has opened I have become a canning line operator and am a trainee brewer at Braddon.”

In her eight years on-and-off in the industry, Tracy believes “there has definitely been a swing in women taking on male-dominated job positions. It’s great to see so many women owning and running successful businesses in Canberra and I think it’s great for younger females to see strong women succeeding in a diverse range of jobs in the industry,” she says.

Beer, according to Tracy, is surprisingly democratic.

“There is a really great community of people, it doesn’t matter the size of your brewery, age, or gender, everybody is supportive of each other.”

ANGELIQUE PERETTO

Angélique Perreto

Angélique Peretto

ANGÉLIQUE PERETTO first began her love affair with cooking working alongside her father at their family-run hotel restaurant, L’ Auberge du Poncellamont in France. Her father’s passion and tutelage convinced her to follow in his footsteps and we can all be thankful for that each time we visit Monster Kitchen and Bar at Hotel Hotel to partake of her macarons, crème brûlée, financiers, clafoutis, and chocolate truffles.

Angélique’s mastery of sugar was broadcast to the nation when she scored a perfect 30 points for her Green Tea, Coconut and Raspberry dessert as a guest chef on the ratings juggernaut that is MasterChef Australia.

Things have been pretty crazy since then.

But the star pastry chef has something of a tunnel vision when it comes to her art and has never let anyone—male or female—distract her from the course.

“I never felt different in any kitchen where I worked because it is simply what I really wanted to do, male environment or not. Then, I never let there be any room for being criticised professionally by men—or women.”

“I think that when you are willing to carry on what you want, you just jump and do it—whatever the price to pay.”

She has found men in the industry have been supportive of her abilities and she has never had to question being a female chef.

“I never try to get something by confrontation and really think that today one of the problems of our society is that everyone absolutely wants to stand up for something and to raise differences which is great— but my perspective our strength is in the union.”

PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Bean

This article originally appeared in Magazine: Disruption for Spring 2017, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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