The reason there are not more female chefs in professional kitchens is probably that they are dominated by men, and women feel uneasy about being outnumbered.
But the style of cooking most revered these days is also distinctly male. People seem to want clever food with as many things balanced on a plate as possible – things like jus jellies, foams and reductions. There is also a cult of male celebrity chefs for whom, it seems to me, the food delivered on the plate is more about the person who made it than about beautiful ingredients, simply and thoughtfully put together. Woman are nurturers, a fact which is often reflected in their style of cooking.
Being a chef is a hard job with stressful conditions, long hours and, very often, little pay. There's a lot of male camaraderie, which women don't necessarily feel a part of, and of course it's difficult to have any sort of family life.
But there is a great sense of satisfaction in producing food that is beautiful and makes people happy. The idea of going into somebody else's professional kitchen and doing service – with people barking orders and a huge pressure to perform – must be terrifying. I wouldn't react well under those conditions, but perhaps men enjoy that macho side of things more.
Another difficulty for women is the constant bartering with suppliers and producers: you have to constantly be pushing for better produce at better prices. I had to learn to be very strong very quickly, as I think we are often seen as pushovers. Heading up a kitchen means it is your job to inspire, teach and keep order, something I find the most exhausting part of all.
I really like a balanced kitchen where both men and women – if possible in equal measure – contribute different things. In my kitchen, the women certainly perform as well as the men.
The writer is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond. Her recipes regularly appear in 'The Independent on Sunday'Reuse content