Italy’s fe­male chefs cry out for a Nigella or a Nadiya to give them pro­file they de­serve

Italy boasts more Miche­lin-star women chefs than any other coun­try, but there are still no fe­male celebri­ties in a male-led cook­ery world

The Observer - - WORLD - by An­gela Gi­uf­frida

Just be­fore lunchtime, Valentina San­tan­ic­chio is mov­ing pur­pose­fully around the kitchen of her restau­rant, Cap­i­tano Del Popolo, in Orvi­eto, a hill­top town in the cen­tral Ital­ian re­gion of Um­bria. In the mid­dle of con­jur­ing up a new menu for win­ter, she slams a wooden la­dle on to a slab of meat in frus­tra­tion. “I’m wait­ing for a food de­liv­ery, in­gre­di­ents that I need right now – but it’s over an hour late,” she tells the Ob­server.

As the lunch or­ders roll in, the de­liv­ery man even­tu­ally turns up, push­ing a trol­ley stacked high with sup­plies. Some of San­tan­ic­chio’s anger comes from a pre­vi­ous en­counter with the same man. “He would come into the kitchen and greet my male col­league by say­ing, ‘Good morn­ing, chef’! As if he was the boss. I told him I am the boss. He never made the same mis­take again.”

De­spite be­ing one of the ac­knowl­edged gas­tro­nomic cen­tres of the world which has pro­duced celebrity chefs such as Gior­gio Lo­catelli, Italy does not yet have a Nadiya Hus­sain or a Nigella Law­son to in­spire and pro­mote the cause of fe­male cook­ing, which re­mains, in the public do­main, an up­hill strug­gle. Adapted ver­sions of Bri­tish shows such as Mas­terChef , The Great Bri­tish Bake Off and Hell’s Kitchen have ar­rived in Italy, and there have been two fe­male win­ners of Mas­terChef Italia since 2011, and two of Bake Off since 2014.

But, said San­tan­ic­chio, “these are just games. Even though there are usu­ally an equal num­ber of male and fe­male par­tic­i­pants, it doesn’t re­flect the real world. Ninety per cent of peo­ple in the cook­ing world in Italy are men, whether as chefs or sup­pli­ers. Women have to work hard, and ap­pear strong enough to do the job, to be cred­i­ble.”

Ital­ian women are revered as cooks at home and they also play a huge role in pro­mot­ing Ital­ian food “just like mamma used to make”. Around the world, ide­alised im­ages of women cook­ing for their brood fea­ture in ad­verts sell­ing ev­ery­thing from olive oil to pasta. But that’s as far as their TV ap­pear­ances go – there is no such thing as a fe­male celebrity chef in Italy, at least not one akin to their UK coun­ter­parts. And while plenty of women work in the kitchens of trat­to­rias, for the most part they are in­vis­i­ble across the higher ech­e­lons of pro­fes­sional cook­ing.

There are note­wor­thy suc­cesses. At 45, Italy boasts the high­est num­ber of fe­male chefs with Miche­lin stars in the world, and about 4,000 women be­long to the Fed­er­a­tion of Ital­ian Chefs (FIC). But the pro­file re­mains low.

“Women work­ing in kitchens are busy get­ting on with their job,” said Alessan­dra Baruzzi, a coordinator for Lady Chef, a unit of FIC. “Many have fam­i­lies and so don’t have time to move around and de­velop them­selves – whereas men do. Un­for­tu­nately, that’s how it is.”

Cristina Bow­er­man, orig­i­nally from the south­ern re­gion of Puglia, gained a Miche­lin star for Glass Hostaria, one of her two restau­rants in Rome, in 2009. The for­mer lawyer used to live in the US, where she switched ca­reers in her mid-30s, gain­ing a de­gree in culi­nary art be­fore mov­ing home in the he late 1990s.

Along­side two busy restau­rants urants and a street food stand at Rome’s ome’s Tes­tac­cio mar­ket, Bow­er­man, n, a mother-of-one, now man­ages sa a staff of 130. Such is her en­tre­pre­neur­ial eflair, the 51-yearold - is also the sub­ject of a case study that forms part of the cur­ricu­lum at Mi­lan’s pres­ti­gious Boc­coni Univer­sity. But t she hasn’t al­ways been taken se­ri­ously as a busi­ness woman. “Peo­ple who I dealt with in the past, who I wanted to buy from or learn from, didn’t give me the time of day,” she said. “Now they are all af­ter me be­cause I have big pur­chas­ing power.” Bow­er­man ex­plained that the prob­lems for fe­male chefs in Italy arise when they en­ter the pro­fes­sional realm.

“If you go to a trat­to­ria or an av­er­age restau­rant in Italy, you will find women in the kitchen do­ing 200 cov­ers like no­body’s busi­ness. But that’s labour. Peo­ple in Italy have an is­sue with the two worlds over­lap­ping – how can you be a pro­fes­sional, a wife and a mother?”

San­tan­ic­chio said that she was in an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship dur­ing the years in which she ran her first restau­rant, con­stantly be­ing told by her for­mer boyfriend that she was in­ca­pable of do­ing the job. “Day by day, he de­stroyed me. I had to fight him but also oth­ers who told me that, as a woman, I was not strong enough for this type of work,” she said.

How­ever, How she man­aged to defy her de­trac­tors, de re­cently ad­vanc­ing ing he her­self in a TV cook­ing show. Am Among her ini­tial men­tors was Iside De Ce­sare, who runs the Miche­lin-starred L La Parolina restau­rant in T Trevinano, a nearby ham­let in Um­bria. De Ce­sare stud­ied to be an en­gi­neer, but later de­cided to go to cook­ing school, cross­ing paths with prom­i­nent chefs in­clud­ing Heinz Beck, a Ger­man who heads the three-Miche­lin­starred La Per­gola restau­rant in Rome, where she trained for two years.

On top of work­ing long hours, she has the pres­sure of main­tain­ing the stan­dards that come with hav­ing a Miche­lin

‘Peo­ple in Italy have an is­sue with worlds over­lap­ping … How can you be a chef, a wife and a mother?’ Cristina Bow­er­man, chef

ac­co­lade, some­thing that in­volves con­stantly learn­ing and up­grad­ing her skills, as well as look­ing af­ter her two chil­dren.

She said the main draw­back for fe­male chefs has been the cul­tural at­ti­tude to­wards women sim­ply go­ing out to work, but she is hope­ful that things are grad­u­ally chang­ing. “I col­lab­o­rate with cook­ing schools and have no­ticed a high pres­ence of women,” she said.

“When I first started out, it felt as if I was the only woman. Slowly but surely things are chang­ing, and now I feel part of the gen­er­a­tion that helped to open up the path.”

Pho­to­graphs by Pal Hansen for the Ob­server and G DiLis­cian­dro

Italy has pro­duced a num­ber of male celebrity chefs such as Gior­gio Lo­catelli, left. But for women, says Miche­lin­starred chef Cristina Bow­er­man, ‘peo­ple have an is­sue with worlds over­lap­ping – how can you be a pro­fes­sional, wife and mother?’

Italy It does not yet have its ow own Nadiya Hus­sain.

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