Sophie White, Apprentice Chef of the Year 2018 award winner.
All Things Being Equal
From apprenticeships to career mentoring, Compass Group UK & Ireland is paving the way for gender parity. Three chefs and the Chair of the company's Women in Food Programme, Emma Pearson, explain how.
Sophie White, last year's winner of Compass Group UK & Ireland's Apprentice Chef of the Year competition, says she was attracted to an apprenticeship programme that afforded the opportunity to 'earn and learn' at the same time.
"I’ve benefited by having an amazing mentor and feel lucky to be working alongside such a passionate and dedicated team. Compass is an organisation which offers opportunities for self-development and personal growth if you’re hungry for that next step and it’s great to be able to challenge myself on a daily basis.
"I’ve received first hand, expert skills, knowledge and guidance – there’s always something new to learn or practice to further develop my skills and help improve productivity.
"It’s not just about the qualification, although that’s a big bonus - it’s as much about the personal triumph for me and winning Compass Apprentice Chef of the Year just added to this. My confidence has soared as a result of adapting and reacting daily to different situations and challenges in a busy kitchen, plus I now have the confidence to try something new and that’s something I didn’t have before.
"My advice for anyone thinking about doing an apprenticeship is ‘go for it’, what do you have to lose? If my story in particular encourages more women into our amazing industry, as well as encouraging and supporting career progression pathways for our female chefs, then that really would be the icing on the cake!"
"I sit on the Women in Food board which allows me to provide valuable insight into the industry from a female chef’s perspective, and am honoured to co-chair our Woman in Food Ambassador Programme where we aim to encourage people into this amazing industry, as well as support the career pathways of our female chefs", says Gemma Evans, an Executive Chef with Compass Group subsidiary (and specialist provider of catering to the education sector) Chartwells, who has been with the group for over nine years.
Gemma’s culinary journey began at Westminster Kingsway College where she trained for three years and credits an inspiring lecturer with helped nurture her dream of becoming a chef. Working at the highest of levels and under prestigious names including legendary Italian Chef, Aldo Zilli, Gemma was at the famous Petrus restaurant when it received its second Michelin Star.
Her tenure with Compass has been equally fulfilling. After joining as a Sous Chef, Gemma progressed to the position of Head Chef within 18 months and stepped into her current role of Executive Chef in 2011.
Always highly competitive, Gemma relishes every opportunity to pit her skills against the industry's best, and was the only female member of the team at the last two World Culinary Olympics (which won a gold medal at Erfurt in 2012 and bronze in 2016). She was also a member of the Compass team that scooped more than 20 individual medals at Culinary World Cup, EXPOGAST 2018, in Luxembourg last November.
Praising her employers, she says:
"It’s great I can call myself part of the Compass Culinary Family. I've had some amazing mentors who have encouraged me to push my culinary boundaries and embrace the great opportunities on offer here. I'm also very proud to work for Chartwells where I work on their dedicated health and wellbeing programme 'Beyond the Chartwells Kitchen', which was launched in September 2018.
"We deliver curriculum tailored events to young people, teachers and communities which include tackling issues like childhood obesity, mental health and lack of exercise through face to face workshops and interactive activities. It’s such a privilege and I find it hugely rewarding".
Catherine Smith, an Executive Development Chef with Chartwells in the North of England, tells of a similar calling to catering.
Passionate about food from an early age, she wanted to create the best dishes in her home economics classes at school and get noticed for her creations.
"When the other students were making fairy cakes, I was making fresh prawn rings!" she says. "I would bake at home and use my peers as Guinea pigs, although I don’t think they minded the free treats”.
After graduating as a qualified chef from catering college at the age of 19, Catherine worked in various hotels in the Midlands before taking a career break to raise her two children.
In 2005, Catherine started working for Chartwells as a unit-based chef before progressing to become a unit manager and now is an executive development chef where she is able to share her skills in food development with the wider culinary team.
Reflecting on her career, she observes, "I have always been supported by my manager, and additional learning is always available and actively encouraged. The highlight of my job is being able to make a difference, producing great food and motivating the teams I work with", before adding:
"Women need the right support and encouragement to be recognised in a male dominated environment and with good mentors, experience in the industry and attending events this can really boost motivation.
"It is really important to never give up, even when times are hard and the long hours are tough because the end results are amazing and worth it. I believe the feeling of accomplishing something is incredible and will last a lifetime in this career".
Emma Pearson, the Chair of Compass Group's Women in Food Programme and managing director of its Business & Industrial (B&I) division, explains the programme is playing a significant role in supporting the progression of women in their careers as chefs.
"Although female representation within our chef workforce is much higher than the industry average at 36 per cent, we are aware female colleagues are often in the minority in our kitchens. Of course all chefs play a hugely important role in our business but we believe there are significant benefits for everyone if we achieve greater gender diversity.
"Our Women in Food Programme therefore focuses on supporting and expanding female talent within the chef community and we have a strong foundation to build on as 44 per cent of our chef apprentices are currently women.
"We also look forward to providing further support through an early careers programme, and by ensuring the right career development pathways are in place to nurture our existing talent.
"We recently convened a meeting of Women in Food Ambassadors to establish an area of focus for 2019. Ambassadors are female chefs from different parts of our business who are at different stages of their careers. They provide great insight into how we, as an employer, can support their development and that of female chefs throughout the industry".