The Step Up Club enjoyed a rather delicious meal at Spring this past weekend. There were many points that tickled our fancy: the astonishingly beautiful surroundings within Somerset House’s new wing, the kooky waiters’ uniforms and of course the food. And not only because it was cooked by a woman.
We ate, in case you were wondering, Smoked cod's roe with crème fraiche and wild fennel leaves, Burrata and San Daniele with broad beans and mint, followed by Halibut with spinach, chilli and preserved lemon dressing, and grilled lobster with curry leaves - the restaurant’s beauty must have induced a celebratory mood. Dessert was a shiny, chocolate-y cube decorated with a single, edible pansy.
Chef Skye Gyngell made complicated-sounding food taste clean and simple. It filled our lucky tummies and got us thinking too: women in professional kitchens, they’re having a moment.
The Savoy Grill hasn’t changed the habit of a lifetime – a male chef at the top – for its entire 126-year existence. Sir Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, Doris Day, Ivor Novello and Marilyn Monroe have all eaten within its hallowed, Art Deco walls. No pressure then, for Kim Woodward, who took the reigns just last month.
Woodward recently told the Telegraph, ‘I am so proud to be where I am today. I love that I'm a female chef that has come this far [especially] to be at the Savoy, a place that is so famous not just for its food but the people who have eaten here.’ Woodward, who was a former Master Chef semi-finalist, wants to liven things up with some different ingredients, including tonka beans and wild strawberry. Tonka beans, for the uninformed, are black and wrinkled with strong sweet fragrance.
Of course, it was Angela Harnett, who pioneered top-level female cooking. She took the Connaught into new realms of culinary brilliance during her tenure there as Chef-Patron, and she is doing equally delicious things at Murano.
Interestingly, it was Gordon Ramsay, probably the blokeiest of all bloke chefs, who championed both Woodward and Hartnett.
Other notable female chefs include Hélène Darroze, who took the reins at The Connaught, Anna Hansen MBE, the food experimenter at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell and Clare Smyth, the only female chef to hold three Michelin stars in the UK. She is chef-patron of Gordon Ramsay Hospital Road. So women have the top-level covered. No arguments there.
What’s new is that they’re also building opportunities within the food industry. Take Deliciously Ella, or the Hemsley sisters, pictured above. Both have made it to the top and carved a new sphere of influence: the blogger cook. Food, a willing beneficiary of the spread of social media (mainly because a plate of delicious food will always be seductive) has brought a new career to Ella, who turned to nutrition when she fell ill whilst working as a model in Paris. Apparently, healthy food succeeded where conventional medicine had failed. Today, her blog receives around two million users a month and the Deliciously Ella cook book never leaves Amazon’s top seller lists.
It’s a similar story over at Hemsley + Hemsley. Sisters Jasmine and Melissa, who are as talented as they are beautiful, love food and have a passion for wellness. Their new style of delicious, nutrient-dense cooking, has landed them a publishing deal for The Art of Eating Well, and they are also contributors to www.vogue.co.uk and The Guardian. In their spare time (!) Jasmine and Melissa cook and consult for celebrities and high-profile events around the world. Good + Simple, the second book from Hemsley + Hemsley, will be released in Spring 2016.
And if eating food cooked by women, or following their modern style recipes and blogs, isn’t enough to prove the point, then how about that stronghold of male influence: the food critic? Well, yup, we’re seeing shifts there too. The Guardian’s Cook supplement is now edited by the droll Mina Holland and Rosie Birkett, who recently travelled India in search of new foodie inspiration with author Vivek Singh, has also charmed the likes of Heston Blumenthal, Raymond Blanc and Alain Ducasse. So there really are a new breed of Fay Maschler’s gaining pace.
There you have it then, Step Up's view on today's food industry. We aren't against men in the kitchen, in fact at times, its something we positively encourage. What's refreshing though, is that women are now equal in professional kitchens, and more than that, they've changed the way we view our food and what we eat at home. Now, where's our lunch.....?
Image courtesy of marieclaire.co.uk