Former Josephine Pignolet Award winner returns volley

Lauren Eldridge, winner of the Josephine Pignolet Award 2015.
Lauren Eldridge, winner of the Josephine Pignolet Award 2015. Photo: Nic Walker

Of the eight finalists recently announced for the Good Food Guide's Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year Award, only one was a woman. It prompted the new chief executive of Restaurant and Catering Australia, Juliana Payne, to say in a recent BusinessDay article that she would like to see about four women among the finalists.

I agree that it would be a wonderful image, however imparting a quota for female finalists is unfair to all entrants. They are judged on their potential and talent, not by their gender. For the picture to change, a deeper adjustment within the industry is required.

The media need to embrace a role in which they seek out and promote talented women in hospitality. To date, much of the promotion of successful female chefs seems to miss the point.

While there is no gender differentiation in the word "chef", it is rare to read an article about a successful female chef without her being labelled as just that, a "female" chef. This language, along with gender bias in questions, is part of the problem.

I am yet to read an article in which a male chef is identified by his gender and not his accomplishments. Successful women should be asked about their achievements, their contributions to the industry and their ambitions. They do not need to be asked how they survive as a female in a male-dominated industry or about their ability to raise a family while working in an industry notorious for long hours.

Greater recognition and promotion of talented women will encourage more to enter awards, and put their abilities in the spotlight. It will help young women wanting to become chefs and restaurateurs to discover role models and learn about the benefits of entering the hospitality industry.

Increasing the female workforce, as well as encouraging those already involved, means the picture will start to change. And it won't be based on filling a quota, but instead on the merit, skill and talent of women.

Lauren Eldridge won the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year 2015 award and becomes group head pastry chef with the Van Haandel Group, primarily based at Stokehouse, in August. The Good Food Guide goes national this year, with the award winners announced in October.