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Celebrating Wellington Women in Hospo on International Women's Day

March 8, 2019

Today, we celebrate some of Wellington’s most talented women in the industry for International Women’s Day (8 March).

We spoke to five talented women in hospitality about everything from what makes our food and talent stand out from all the others, personal challenges, learnings and their experiences as wahine, who contribute daily to the overwhelmingly rich and delicious tapestry that is the Wellington food and dining scene.

Julie Clark, Restaurateur - Floridita’s (Cuba Street)

“I love the industry in Wellington. I’ve been in it since 1988, and started off when it was rare to find women in the industry. There was a French woman here, back in the day - she owned La Beauchamps [on Tinakori Road]. She terrified the pants off me! But she was really the only one.

“This industry has changed hugely since I first started. It’s much more inclusive of women; when I started out as a chef, it was really brutal. Things are definitely changing - yeah, there’s still a bit of attitude, but I think you’re gonna get that.

“The first time I tried to get a [bank] loan for my business, it was turned down. That was because I didn’t have a partner and didn’t have a car, and all those sorts of things. But now you can just rock on up yourself, and they don’t ask you about your partner or your husband or anything like that.

“I’ve seen the industry change, and I really like where it’s at at the moment. I love the hospitality industry in Wellington because it is very collegial. I could ring up Mark at Ortega Fish Shack, and ask him for something or a chat; Laura from Field and Green; Kate at Capitol; Sarah at The Larder... Male and female, it’s a very collegial thing. I’ve worked in the industry in Auckland and it’s not like that; it’s much more competitive. People will help you out here.

“Sometimes young people may think, yes, there’s still some way to go. I acknowledge that too, but I also don’t think they realise how far we’ve come; how much better it is for women in hospitality now, than it was. We’ve made good progress. And Wellington is a good place to be in the hospitality business.”

Monique Fiso, Chef - Hiakai (Mount Cook)

"When I was younger. I really wanted to work under a female chef, because for some reason, I thought it would be different. I don’t know what I was expecting. I set my sights on working for [Michelin star American chef] Missy Robbins, and then when I worked for her, realised, actually - it’s no different! You’ve got the same challenges, professionally, the same goals and targets to meet as men. It’s just that you’ve got some other things working against you. You have to deal with the old gender stuff within the industry, but I think a lot of women who stick at it are incredibly resilient.

"It's becoming more and more so that if you have an issue with women in the kitchen, you probably don’t have a place in the industry anymore. In our kitchen, if you can’t take directions from a woman, you’re not going to last very long, because we have some very intelligent, assertive and hard working women in the front and back of house! I think it’s getting better. It can be a bit of a boys club, but I feel that’s more to do with the older generation, and that’s fading out.

“What I think is quite cool about Wellington, compared to any other city in the country, is there’s a lot more head chefs and executive chefs that are female, and they’re all quite vocal too. There are some really talented female chefs across the country, but in Auckland you don’t really hear from them; in Christchurch, they make a bit of noise, but there aren’t as many. In Wellington there’s just a lot more of us. There’s regular meetings, which is really cool, and you actually get to meet and back each other. There’s this kind of solidarity. There’s this quiet understanding of “I want to support you”, which is a great way to do it. The women in this industry are very supportive each other.

"We’re just no different to anybody else. It’s honestly what I think. Sometimes I worry because I also know how much harder it can be [juggling having children and a family]. There are women who do it, and I think it creates more resilience."   

Brigid O’Flaherty, Co-owner & Patissiere - Milkcrate (Ghuznee Street)

“I had originally trained as a graphic designer and moved over to Europe shortly after the recession had just hit. There weren’t many options over there, job-wise! I somehow ended up working in a kitchen in Berlin, and realised I had a bit of a knack for it. I’d always loved food, but it wasn’t until I did it as a job that I really loved it.

“Treatment of women [in the industry, overseas] is completely different. Especially as a woman, you do constantly hear about ranking systems in kitchens with men, and I did see more of that in Europe. I haven’t really felt that, personally, in Wellington. But I’m in quite a different situation: I’m a part owner of a cafe with a small, family-like team. Everything about my experience in Wellington has been positive.

“I think really highly of the women in Wellington and their talents, as well as on the outskirts of Wellington too - there’s amazing female chefs out on the coast. I guess I‘m quite fortunate with the area we’re in as well. This is quite a cool little hub and there’s amazing women I’ve become friends with through hospitality. Chelsea from Shepherd and Hannah from Goldings.

“They both started the Women in Hospitality group with Nikita from Hillside. They have guest speakers; women who come from different backgrounds within the industry. It could be someone from the wine industry, chefs... It’s just going along and having a drink, and talking about your experiences; it’s just a good supportive network. 

“As much as I do have an amazing, supportive team - my business partners are all male - it’s still quite nice to have a female perspective on things, because they do not think the same way that I do! I definitely bring different things to this board. So it’s nice to think it out with other girls and bring it back."

Sam Dinsdale

“I been a chef for 13 years, and I’ve seen all sorts of stuff, but to be honest, I’ve never had a problem with gender whilst I was working here or overseas [in London]. I’ve always just wanted to do the work, do the job and do it really well.

“I’ve been mentored by a lot of people over the years who have been extremely talented, and my goal is to carry on the legacy of what they've taught me, as well as pass that on to other people who I work with.

“I used to want to be one of the boys, and keep up with the boys. I’m quite small and not very physically strong, but I’m loud! I’ve always made up for it by being loud. For a while I had it in my head that I wasn’t good enough - I’m not quite sure what my measure of “enough” was enough.

In the end I realised that it wasn’t a case of working harder and competing with everyone, it was a case of working hard and working smarter alongside other people. Work on my level: “be with me”.

“So I’ve made it my mission to “be better”. I want to be better. I’m not sure if I can be the best, but I will always aim to be better, and keep working towards that every day.

“Recently, I decided I didn't want to be a chef anymore. Currently, I’m doing a multitude of things - mainly collaborating with people who I admire and love the kind of work and things they do.

“I’m working with Jackie Lee and helping her out at [brownie bar] Lashings, as well as a couple of other fun things and projects we have; co-managing Shoots Microgreens, and I’m working with Tom and Kate [Hutchison of Capitol] on the Capitol cookbook.

“I think if you do that - surround yourself with good, talented people, you’ll always be learning and wanting to do the very best. Find those people, get together with them, and say, '"Let’s do fun shit together!'”

Helen Turnbull, Owner & Chef - 50/50 (Paraparaumu)

“I love the teamwork within my role and hospitality, and that is pretty much what has got me through some hard times. It’s the teamwork that really makes it for me and kept me going, as well as the creativity, because I’m a chef.

“I love making people happy, and so this is a really great way that I can do that; it gives me so much pleasure. Last night was our second vegan five-course event, featuring locally foraged and locally grown vegetables. It was an amazing event - 80% of the diners were women, and maybe only two or three of them were actually vegans!

“For me, it ties in with that teamwork thing and the way we connect with each other. I’m really noticing there’s a real sense of connecting and supporting at the moment, and that’s not just a female thing.

“Obviously there is a difference between men and women, but because I’ve never been a man, it’s quite difficult to answer to that! I think there are difficult, great and fantastic things about everything, and you’ve got to find your own unique space.

“For me, a motivation factor in my life is if someone tells me I can’t do it. Or if I find something really terrifying, it just makes me want to go and do it. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are or what background you have, go out there and live your dream. Do the thing that scares you. There’s always going to be barriers. You’ve just got to go out there, decide what you want to do and work towards it.”