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Insights into the WhatsApp group of top chefs

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Cooks have their hands full. We’re mothers, caregivers, social media wizards, consultants and everything in between – all before we’ve put on our butcher’s aprons and fired up the ovens. And our workplace is the kitchen, which insulates a person from daylight, time and sometimes reality better than most. So how do we keep our sanity? There’s a WhatsApp group for that.

Women are more cautious than men when it comes to asking each other for help. We don’t socialize as much as we should. I’ve worked in predominantly male kitchens all my professional life. Now I’m in management, I’ve tried to change that and work with an almost entirely female team. But sometimes you want to talk to other women who are at the top and running their own businesses. So I set up a WhatsApp group. When “Bosses👩‍🍳” pops up in there, I know it’s going to be something good.

I counted the five recurring themes in our group and they perfectly sum up what it’s like to be a chef.

Find a time to meet (eight attempts)

The odds are against us. Getting 50 busy women from across the country together is a logistical nightmare. We finally managed to have a few drinks in a pub in north London (on a Monday) and vowed to do this every month. That was a while ago.

“I would like to be there, but …” (19 mentions)

These cannot be called excuses, because in reality they remind us that there is life outside the kitchen.

“Does anyone have staff?” (10 responses)

The hospitality industry is notorious for being constantly understaffed, so we beg, borrow and steal, even if it’s just a pair of arms and legs to work in the trimmings department. Last summer I took on a grill shift for a friend so she could go to Wimbledon. I wouldn’t have let her miss it for the world.

Discussions about misogynistic chefs (a very long, ongoing conversation that is not quantifiable)

The cataloging of the insensitive callousness of our more testosterone-charged colleagues permeates real-life meetings and group chat. I sat at a hospitality conference just last year and rolled my eyes at the nonsense that came out of the keynote speaker’s mouth, including the statement that kitchens only function properly when they are driven by the fear of failure. It was as if we had just rewound 50 years. I certainly could have used this network when I was just a head chef and a contractor walked into the nearly empty kitchen and asked to speak to the person in charge (me), or when I was routinely asked if I was the pastry chef. Why it is always assumed that the women are in charge of the sugar, I will never understand.

Congratulations! (87 mentions)

The reasons we’re all here: love, support and appreciation. Chat went through the roof when Adejoké Bakare’s restaurant became the first black British woman to win a Michelin star. There are also restaurant awards, book launches, rave reviews, interviews and much more. One chef posted the other day saying she was feeling grumpy and depressed and wondering why she was bothering and I hope our responses have reminded her of that.

Sally Abé is executive chef and consultant at The Pem and author of “A Woman’s Place is in the Kitchen” (Fleet)

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