Chef Ravneet Gill on Kitchen Machismo

Written by Emily Leeming
April 30, 2019

‘Women belong in the kitchen’ is an outdated stereotype though it may take on new meaning when you consider the dire gender statistics of UK professional kitchens. In 2017, only 24% of chefs were female –food appears to be a man’s world. I met up with Ravneet Gill, pastry chef extraordinaire, who’s worked in some of the top kitchens and bakeries in London including St John Smithfield, Llewelyn’s and Black Axe Mangal. Last year Ravneet launched Countertalk – a chef community that looks to promote gender equality and fair working conditions in professional kitchens.  

Ravneet (left) teaching a pastry class

Countertalk – a chefs collective

‘Countertalk started off with me as a chef wanting to create a space to give people who don't get enough exposure, more exposure in the restaurant industry’ Ravneet tells me as we clasp warm cups of coffee outside 26 Grains in Covent Garden. ‘I also really want to promote healthy work environments because I found that it took me years to know what a healthy work environment was as a chef’. Ravneet has been cooking professionally for six years after realising that food was her true passion during her degree in Psychology, she then re-trained at Cordon Bleu. She’s taken the London pastry scene by storm with a drool-worthy personal Instagram account @ravneeteats and cult following for Countertalk’s events. There’s a certain tenacity about Ravneet. She’s a doer. An achiever. Half laughing, Ravneet tells me her first job as a chef was off the classified ads website Gumtree. ‘I started off really low, working some shit job in these horrible kitchens’ she tells me. I get the impression that a number of terrible experiences during this time – for herself and those of other women chefs, lead to her creating the chefs collective Countertalk. Under the surface of this high-pressure and high-performance environment lies a pressure-cooker of stressed and over-worked chefs, and too many stories of sexual harassment and verbal abuse.  It was only when Ravneet began working at the former smokehouse St. Johns that she thought ‘oh my goodness, there are good places to work!’. Through Countertalk, Ravneet has created a supportive network hosting food events, supper clubs, talks and a soon-to-be launched job posting site – only featuring kitchens that have been personally approved by Ravneet that promote a healthy work environment. 

Countertalk offers a range of job opportunities, workshops and supper clubs

A side of gender imbalance

Ravneet is passionate about changing the script for women chefs in the kitchen. ‘I used to always get so many work experience people come in that were girls and then would never see them ever again’ Ravneet tells me with a wry smile. ‘I’d find that they would come in and then be intimidated by it or scared of the hours. Not understanding that actually it can be a good place to work’. She looks at me pointedly – ‘it's really difficult because I've got so many male friends and teachers who are incredible who are all about elevating their colleagues - but then you do get a handful who just can't deal with a woman in the kitchen. They either see you sexually and try and date you, or they see you as a threat’.

It’s not just the men who can make it tough for women in a professional kitchen. ‘Sometimes I would go into the kitchen and find actually that the women are more tough with me than the men’ Ravneet says. ‘It’s their ‘territory’ so they put you through your paces to make sure that you're good enough - sometimes that can be really tough for us [women]. I think I understand why they would be that way because you're around people talking about sex and football and drugs and whatever all day - you know - I mean… I can understand.’ She shrugs. ‘Helping people see that they're equal is also getting more women into kitchens because it's not going to change if you only have one woman always’.

Countertalk is working hard to promote healthy work environments in the hospitality sector

Healthier work environments – for all

Ravneet believes that creating a healthier work environment – for all – will not only support women in professional kitchens, but also create a better work-life balance for everyone. ‘It’s not normal to work dinner double lunch every single day. It's completely mad’ says Ravneet. She tells me how flexible work hours, part-time positions, and compulsory breaks can boost creativity, morale and foster a team atmosphere. ‘At Saint John they forced you to take a break. Everyone would have breakfast together. It helps you get to know everyone, it harbours more fun and you get to have a conversation with each other rather than it being purely kitchen chat. And when you have things like that – professional kitchens can be amazing’.

Countertalk holds food events, supper clubs, talks and more. Connect on Instagram

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