UK Food Heroes (who just happen to be women)

Sunday March 8 2020 or not, celebrating the extraordinary relationship between women and food is a 365 day affair in our opinion.

Of course, International Women’s Day provides the perfect opportunity to strengthen the discourse around women leaders of the food industry – so that in the future, we needn’t assign the term ‘women’ to specific roles in order to differentiate them from their male counterparts. You feel us?

Since the beginning of time, women have fed the world. From being the sole provider for the first several months of a human’s life to being there with a soulful bowl of chicken soup at the first signs of a cold (or heartbreak), women have a beautifully intrinsic connection to food. 

And have you noticed that behind every great chef, there’s usually a woman or grandmother to attribute their culinary successes to? It’s a no-brainer then, that women should be entitled to an equal share of leading roles within the commercial kitchen space. 

However, the restaurant scene has continued to be a male-dominated landscape and statistics indicate there’s still a mountain of dirty dishes to clean. 

Did you know that around 90% of women in the industry have experienced some form of sexual harassment from colleagues or customers? Or that less than five percent of Michelin stars are held by women globally and only 17% of chefs in the UK are female? And what’s up with some male celebrity chefs still stuck in the 1800s?

The Food Fight for Women’s Rights

Luckily, it’s not all face-palm moments. 

We are in the presence of heroic female foodies all over the UK who are speaking up in support of their own food ambitions and the dreams of the women around them.

If you were with us last year, you may have seen that we had the incredible opportunity to partner up with CODE for their release of the 100 Most Influential Women in Hospitality 2019. This list champions bold women in the UK food industry, from chefs and producers to accountants and directors, who are affecting some seriously positive change. Cool, huh?

Go on and punch the air again, because there has also been a rise in organisations which support other women within the industry. Ladies of Restaurants and Women of Food are just a couple of fantastic initiatives creating a platform for UK women to share their food experiences and personal stories.

What can you do to back women in hospitality?

Choosing where to dine is just one small but powerful way you can make a stance. When you’re thinking of where to go with your gang for International Women’s Day – and every day in between – consider the narrative of that restaurant, bar or café. Who’s in the kitchen? Who’s making the decisions? Could your plate of food do with an extra bit of salt and gender parity? 

To point you in the right direction, we’ve collated a list of hospitality establishments where you can tuck in knowing that your plate of food is taking us closer to an equal world, one delicious bite at a time.

Oh, and make sure you check out our International Women’s Day stories in ItalyAustraliaSingapore and Germany too!

So, let’s hear it for these women changing the food narrative…

Emma Reynolds Co-founder, Tonkotsu

R-amen for folk like Emma Reynolds. Since the age of 16, Emma has been working in the restaurant industry and has secured an unbelievable wealth of knowledge (boasting a microbiology degree too – boom!). Driven by an irrepressible passion, she co-founded one of London and Birmingham’s best ramen restaurants: Tonkotsu. Today, there are a whopping twelve locations pumping out authentic 16-hour pork broth and homemade noodle creations on the daily.

Emma and her team are also known for keeping it real outside of the kitchen too. Caring for people is at the heart of what they do, and the establishment of the Tonkotsu Foundation confirms this. At the moment, 50p from each Japanese Mushroom Miso Ramen goes towards supporting a range of charities. One such charity is Magic Breakfast which provides healthy breakfasts for hungry children around the country. Which frankly, is just as heart-warming as a delicious bowl of ramen.

Slurp ramen at: Bankside | Ealing | Mare Street | Peckham | Shoreditch

Shauna Froydenlund Chef-patron, MARCUS 

Heralding from Derry in Northern Ireland, Shauna Froydenlund has worked for prestigious Marcus Wareing Restaurants for over ten years. Before becoming the chef-patron at MARCUS (a.k.a one of London’s top fine dining establishments) in 2017, Froydenlund kick-started her career on a student placement at Pétrus in Paris, continued on to gain a first-class honours degree in hospitality and culinary arts, was head chef at Tredwells, featured as a Great British Menu contestant and even consulted the production of the film Burnt, featuring Bradley Cooper. How’s that for a resumé?

Anna Haugh Owner & Chef, Myrtle

In 2019, Dublin-born chef Anna Haugh went solo and added an exciting piece to London’s restaurant scene: Myrtle. Inspired by both her mother and Myrtle Allen (the first Irish chef to gain a Michelin Star back in 1975), the menu features modern dishes with a strong Irish influence. 

Before launching her own venture, Anna spent over 20 years cooking in some of the world’s toughest kitchen environments. A history of bosses such as Derry Clarke, Philip Howard, Shane Osborne and Gordon Ramsey may have left some intimidated. Not Anna Haugh – who was known for giving it back in the kitchen when necessary. She empowers her own staff to exercise this same assertiveness.

Linsey Scott Chef Proprietor, Mason Belles Kitchen

In 2018, Linsey Scott opened Mason Belles Kitchen, a family-run restaurant in the quaint Scottish town of Linlithgow. With over 22 years of experience under her belt, and plenty of stories to tell about her in time in some of the country’s most well-renowned establishments, it’s clear Linsey knows how to lead a team to victory. Swing by for a stand-out brunch, lunch, afternoon tea or devastatingly good dinner which uses only Mother Nature’s best. 

Erchen Chang Chef Director, Xu & BAO

Erchen Chang blows multi-tasking out of the water, acting as the chef director of not one, not two, but three killer restaurants in London. In 2015, she founded the first BAO restaurant with her very own brother and sister. Since then, Erchen and her cool sibs have opened two more BAO locations as well as a brand new restaurant concept: Xu London. This Taiwanese Teahouse and Restaurant serves traditional eats (including delicious dumplings) in a hip interior inspired by the glamour of 1930s Taipei. Join the hubbub of fans queuing outside Xu or the BAO hotspots and fall in love with Erchen and her family’s collection of culinary masterpieces.

Sunaina Sethi Co-founder, Beverage & People Director, JKS Restaurants

Making up another rockin’ sibling trio is Sunaina Sethi, a sommelier, mother and co-founder of JKS Restaurant. Together with her two brothers Jutoin and Karam, Sunaina is responsible for the operation of 16 restaurants, including Berenjak in Soho and the aforementioned Bao and Xu, as well as 5 Indian home delivery kitchens across London. On top of overseeing the beverage strategy, Sunaina is in charge of leading the company’s charitable initiatives which support over 25 organisations each year in the areas of hunger relief, medical research and community development. This dedication to the cause has resulted in donations totalling over £1 million. Phenomenal.

Laura Geas Owner, Mezcalito Chelsea 

Laura Geas has quite the reputation around town for knowing how to throw one hell of a party in London’s Chelsea neighbourhood. Laura opened Mezcalito Chelsea in 2018, and within just two years this boss has established Mezcalito as a popular go-to for lively weekends, relaxing drinks in the sun-soaked garden, for celebrating special occasions and hosting women events. If you’re into tacos, tequila, mezcal and margaritas, you and your mates will love what Laura has created on Sydney Street.