Male and female chefs bring so much to the table - so why limit yourself?
Chances are when you hear the word ‘chef’, you’ll conjure up a man in whites - be it Jaime Oliver, Gordon Ramsey or any number of celebrity chefs that have become the figure heads of the industry over the past three decades.
In fact it’s true to say that traditionally kitchens haven’t been the best example of gender balance. Too often the lack of diversity hampers the restaurant and the team, but the times are changing and at Whitbread, home of brands such as Premier Inn, Beefeater and Brewers Fayre, we’re striving for a better balance in our kitchens.
Leading the charge is our Academy North Skills Academy Coach Marie Cotterill.
As part of the team responsible for educating the business around our food – from hygiene to how to cook our mouth-watering menus - she’s changing perceptions and setting the standards that all our chefs live up to, serving great meals to millions of our guests every year.
Cooking’s in her blood, and has been her ambition since she hung off her Grandma’s apron strings, helping her in the kitchen. But when she began as a YTS at her local Beefeater, she found herself in a minority of one.
“I knew I’d made the right choice – I enjoyed the job, the people, the praise from guests – but I was the only woman in the kitchen. In fact, for a few years it was only me and one other in our entire region, flying the flag for female chefs.
“There was no getting away from it, it was a male environment. I started off quite shy, but as my confidence grew I could hold my own in any company and worked my way up to become Head Chef.”
Her time at The Oakwood in Salford stood her in good stead for her next move, to the Bamford Arms Beefeater, where she stayed until 2014, working her way up to become Kitchen Manager and setting up a successful restaurant.
“I loved it there – the restaurant thrived and we produced quite a few future KMs within the team. You have to develop people or they leave. It’s simple. Whitbread appreciates that so they progress you – if you put the work in. Balance in any team is important though and I saw more females coming into our kitchen which was really pleasing. We hugely benefitted from having that different element in the team. They were ambitious too – they wanted to get ahead and at Whitbread, they’re at the right place.”
Her reputation at The Bamford Arms spread. “My Regional Operations Manager saw in me that I was ready for the next challenge and she took me out of my comfort zone. The Whitegate Beefeater was a much larger site that needed a bit of TLC.”
However, the mum-of-one needed the role to become more flexible to fit around family life and received the support of her General Manager.
“My GM was incredible. He understood my commitment to my family – being a Chef with the hours we keep, balancing family too it can feel like an impossible task. But his door was always open and when I needed different shifts for family events or school, it was never a problem.
“Part of me didn’t want to leave, but Whitbread promotes progression and the North Academy was the destination I felt my journey was heading. Teaching people within the team gave me such satisfaction, sending people further than they might have thought possible. To do that full time was the task of the Academy chefs and I wanted to be one.”
Craig Robinson, Lead F&B Skills Academy Manager, heads up the North Academy and was fully aware of Marie before she applied.
“She was spoken about for ages as a great KM within the business,” he said. “What really impressed me though was her dogged determination. She had aspirations to join us and over the years helped out on a few bits here and there. But then she really ramped it up – shadowing us, always asking questions, wanting to improve.
“Marie’s a great role model. The knowledge she has and the manner in which she delivers it is perfect. For our other Chefs, she is proof of where hard work, dedication and consistency will get you. But for other reasons too. I’ve got two young daughters and I’d hate for them to think there was a profession that was off limits because of their sex. Think being a Chef is a man’s job? No it isn’t – Marie shows there’s no limits here.
“We’re seeing more and more women come through the Academy and I think it’s a reflection of Whitbread as a business. We’re led by a female CEO, our Operations Directors are women as are our Regional Operations Managers – it sends the right message.”
For Marie, a personal highlight has been putting on a training session for delegates from Derwen College, that proved to her that she’s on the right career path.
“The Derwen training was probably my most rewarding experience of my professional life. I set up the programme – my first solo – so had the nerves around wondering would it be useful, functional, enjoyable.”
The response was overwhelming: “The delegates seemed to love it - one of them even cried when it was time to leave, which almost set me off! It was a fabulous day. The teacher said he hadn’t seen the group gel so well with an outside speaker before and that really meant a lot.
“The more confident I’m getting about teaching the better it’s getting. I’m back to the early days of the kitchen with compliments and great comments from delegates. I think I’ve found my calling in life, bringing the enjoyment of the job out to future generations. I have a desire to see people succeed.”
And Marie’s clear on the necessary ingredients for the ideal kitchen team. “Men in the kitchen can be very task oriented, whereas women’s nature is one of organisation and nurturing talent. What you need is a balance. It can’t be all men and it can’t be all women. We both bring so much to the table – so why limit yourself?”
Why indeed. Step into our kitchens and plot a career that could take you anywhere. Visit www.whitbreadcareers.com/chef and see for yourself.