Female Chefs in South Florida Are Changing Industry Perceptions

Jan 29, 2019

Women remain underrepresented in leadership positions across industries and  the culinary world is no different. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, females represent less than 20 percent of chefs and head chefs.

Despite the challenges women face in professional kitchens, South Florida chefs are, "changing the narrative,” said Adrianne Calvo. She is owner of Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant and host of Maximum Flavor Live on NBC 6. She, along with Chez Bon Bon’s Executive Pastry Chef Brielle Fratellone, joined Sundial to talk about their experience with South Florida’s food scene and climbing the ladder of a male-dominated industry.

This conversation has been edited for clarity.

WLRN: Chef Calvo, what were some hurdles? What was it like for you coming up [in the culinary world]?

CALVO: I actually didn't study pastry and I had a male executive chef as a boss at the Mandarin Oriental. And just because I was a woman, he actually put me in pastry. He just assumed that I wanted to do only pastry. So that was one of the hurdles.

So that was an expectation, for women just go into pastry?

CALVO: Yeah. Well that's how it was you know like 15 years ago. So, I mean I ended up loving pastry, but at that, I still had a male boss. Now, owning my restaurant for almost 12 years it's very hard to get male employees in the kitchen and having them respect you as a boss in the kitchen. I mean even from the dishwasher to your prep cooks, if there's a man in there they just want to step over you. It's really very interesting. I don't know if it's the male ego but at that, my two chefs in command are women.

Chef Fratellone, you try to find a good balance with your team. I want to go into the hiring process… How do you spot those folks [people who disrespect of women in the kitchen because you don't even want to bring that kind of attitude] in the workplace?

FRATELLONE: Like Chef Adrienne was mentioning, the old mentality of a kitchen is yelling, screaming, and cursing. Fear-based leadership was the kitchen style for so many years. That's not the type of leader I am. And that's not the type of leader I've learned from. And so, when I hire people, I have them start in the kitchen. They come to work for us for a day. They see what our environment’s like and we try to get the best personality fit for that environment, a learning-based environment.

Chef Calvo, do women feel the need to prove themselves more than their male counterparts because they're going to be viewed that way?

CALVO: I don't know if that's necessarily true, but I do know that there is definitely a stigma in the industry just because, more often than not, you're coming into the good old boys’ club. I remember at one of the events—a signature event in Miami—that I have taken part in probably eight years in a row and there was a male chef. He was pretty much a celebrity, I mean everybody in Miami knows who he is, and he wouldn't address me by my name. He would introduce me as you know the “fiery redhead” and that was it. And we're like we have a name you know and we're dedicating our time and money toward an event. And I was just the fiery redhead. And so, you have to kind of prove yourself and your skills to be taken more seriously.

So much has changed in the world. You think about the Me-Too movement and how it's shaping a lot of different industries. Is it changing this industry at all? Is the conversation changing at all?

FRATELLONE:I think one of the main parts of Me-Too is that having more women in leadership positions makes women who may have had something happen to them feel more comfortable with coming forward. I've had this experience. A person have a male boss, but they come to me instead because I'm in a leadership position. They come to me and say, “You know I want to talk about this” and they feel more comfortable because these are things that they often feel embarrassed about. It's more comfortable talking to a female sometimes about the situation, so having more females in leadership positions really helps balance that. A lot more people are coming forward.