The first time I stepped into a real kitchen, I walked in and realized I was the only girl in the room, much younger than everyone else, and the only one who didn't speak Cantonese. The executive sous at the time said, "Look around. Notice that there aren't many girls in kitchens, you're the only one. But you aren't a girl in here, there are no girls in my kitchen, only cooks. Now get to work." 

It's strange how people hold the stereotype of women having to always be in the kitchen when any high-end restaurant would have at most four female cooks in a sea of ten or twelve males. As much as society tries to equate itself, old habits die hard. In some ways, being a woman is a gift; in other ways, it's a crutch. Standing out will always have people treating you differently.

To widen perspective, I asked a few other female chefs about their experience with the restaurant industry thus far. This was their take on it:

Be A Little Bit More Charming

"I was 15 when I started working in a restaurant as a salad girl. All the cooks were male, and almost all the women were waitresses. I was treated differently, but not everyone was one way or the other. I received special treatment when I was younger; people were more patient. I was told to take phone orders rather than carry packages, for example.

As I've gotten older I've realized that there's more of a judgment call. I'm paid attention to a little bit less, but it's something I've gotten to use to my advantage. You work a certain angle; be a little bit more charming. You will be remembered because you stick out as the only girl. Say less and do more; let the work do the talking. I've learned that I could gain respect that way. I would say, stay strong and level-headed because the worst stereotype is being called too emotional and irrational. It's especially important when you're young to keep your emotions separate from how you present yourself professionally. People will take you more seriously."

- Alyssa Lisle, Sous Chef at Republique 

Do We Have To Lose Our Femininity To Work In Kitchens?

"I started working in kitchens on the older side, when I was 30. It was often that I was the only female in the kitchen. I think kitchens are harder on females; there's definitely more hazing with women, and I still don't feel that I get as much respect as I would if I were a man. I have been told many times that I don't "look" like a chef, which is also a bit annoying. What does that mean? Do I have to cover myself in tattoos and piercings and be 500 pounds? Do we have to lose our femininity to work in kitchens? There's no more that I need to prove to anyone else. I just hope to maintain viable business and to make nice food. Don't give up, but be prepared to work really hard."

-Judy Joo, Iron Chef UK, Restaurateur at Jinjuu London/HK

Every Day, I Have Something To Prove

"I only started working in kitchens a couple of years go when I was 17. I've always heard that the kitchen, like the world itself, is a man's, but it was the first thing I noticed when I started working. Working in the kitchen isn't easy--I don't feel that one's sex should affect the workload, but the nature of that dynamic is always present. Being a woman is always hard, but working in the kitchen just makes every day even more of a struggle. Every day, I have something to prove. Never give up on yourself, your goals, or your dreams. Every day you battle, but if you keep grounded and focused, this industry is very rewarding. Believe in yourself no matter what."

- Tiana Gee, Cook at Republique

I Don't Like To Rest On My Laurels

"My Grandma Amelia ran kitchens back in the day, so I was exposed as a child. During my days at Le Cordon Bleu, I remember it was though men were prepped to become executive chefs, and women gravitated towards more subordinate designations, or to the pastry department.

Working in kitchens is often compared to being in the military. There is a pecking order, so even in cooking school you feel that you have a lot more to prove being a woman. You want to be able to take the cuts, the burns and the orders that are screamed at you without flinching. While I merely had a stint working in a kitchen, that pressure has followed me to my life as a restaurateur. I don't like to rest on my laurels. I always make it a point to be alert to what's happening with my chefs and challenge my staff to prepare food that is inspired and consistent. Your passion for food is worth the taste of failure every so often."

- Ana Lorenzana de Ocampo, Restaurateur at WildFlour, Farmacy, and PINK'S Manila

I haven't had nearly as much experience as these women above, but I do see what lies both behind and ahead. Every once in a while I'll be called out as the "princess chicken lady," and there are times where I've learned to bat my eyes. I've also learned, however, that in the 7:30 PM rush of dinner service, the work speaks for itself. The strength of a woman flows into the kitchen from the tip of her knife to the willingness of her heart. Not being tall enough for the highest shelf simply means that she will have to find more creative ways to get to the top.