Just to warn you, if you pick this book up to have a flick through and see what it's all about, you'd better have a good hour or more to spare; I read it cover to cover, in that 'just one more page' way that happens when you are hooked (and if you are buying it as a gift for a foodie - which I very much recommend that you do - get a copy for yourself too, or it'll never make it as far as the wrapping paper).
A glance at any best restaurant list will tell you the food scene’s infamous gender imbalance is far from solved. Women, though traditionally encouraged to cook at home, have long been much less championed in professional kitchens. And yet, within this challenging environment, many women are pioneering change – from nurturing all-female teams to shaking up the narrative of what it means to be a woman and a chef. This book celebrates those at the forefront of modern food, and the experiences that got them there, bringing together insightful interviews, original portraits and personal recipes.
It is fascinating how the individual chefs, cooks and restaurateurs within these pages approach different aspects of working in the industry - including whether they call themselves a chef at all. Some see it as a hard-earned and well-deserved title which recognises their training and experience, bringing with it equality and the respect of their peers; others reject it as a symbol of the rigid, macho, military-style approach to running a kitchen which undervalues - and occasionally victimises - those at the bottom of the pecking order.
Equally interesting are the common themes: an awareness of generations of women cooking traditional recipes passed down from their mothers and grandmothers; an appreciation of ingredients - not just their quality, but their wider impact on the environment and community ; and the sense of responsibility to pay forward their own influence by nurturing and mentoring the next generation of chefs.
Most of the profiled chefs have provided recipes along with Clare Finney's intelligent, engaging interviews and Liz Seabrook's perceptive portaits. This is a lovely book, simultaneously accessible and important; if you are interested in food and hospitality, get yourself a copy and read it - you can thank me later.
The Female Chef by Clare Finney and Liz Seabrook is published by Hoxton Mini Press.
Clare Finney writes about food, chefs and producers for a variety of magazines and newspapers, and in 2019 was pronounced Food Writer of the Year in Fortnum and Mason’s Food and Drink Awards. Liz Seabrook is a portrait and lifestyle photographer. Celebrating women through warm, honest portraiture has always been at the core of Liz’s work; in 2020, she was selected for 1854’s Portrait of Britain award.
Deputy Editor, Chatting Food London: Amanda David
Freelance food writer, copy editor and blogger Amanda David is dedicated to sharing news about London’s restaurants, bars, events and general wonderfulness. It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it.
She has also just launched a new website, A Cook's Bookshelf, reviewing cookbooks old and new, with side-by-side photographs of recipe illustrations next to her home-cooked version.
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