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Today is International Women’s Day and as Libby Clark is currently our only female events chef we asked her opinion on whether she feels as if she works in a ‘man’s world’…
Libby has worked with Heritage Portfolio for 4 years and forged her way through the ranks to where she sits now. As Senior Event Chef she takes complete ownership of events from the tasting experience, to planning production, ordering the produce and then preparing the food for the event itself.
Highlights of her job include training and developing the junior team and serving on location at some of these “weird and wonderful events”! She is also known as the ‘big job girl’. Generally any events with over 300 guests are passed to her once the Executive Development chef, Brian Canale, has developed the initial menu for the client. Libby says “I love the challenge of making sure every single element of our complex dishes are delivered perfectly at the right place and right time. For a job for 650 this week there will be 21 different food elements required for just the canapés and around 30 more elements for the 3 course dinner menu too! That's over 30,000 'bits' that me and the team have to prepare with love!”
Currently Libby is the only full time female events chef working in the Heritage Portfolio main kitchens. In her typical nonchalant style, Libby doesn’t seemed phased by this statement. At her level there aren’t many females in the industry and she comments... “I’m just so used to it! Most of my kitchen teams in the past were smaller and one girl was plenty! The only thing I needed to make sure of in my youth was that I wasn’t kept away from the stoves....girls were generally put on pastry or larder sections back in the day!” It isn’t until another female helps in the kitchen working alongside her that she becomes more aware of the lack of women on her bench.
Do you consider events cooking to be ‘a man’s world’?
“It's just an industry thing I feel. There aren't as many girls who start in the first place. You do then have to push everything a little further and work harder to gain the same respect or credit as a male counterpart. Then as life comes along, and family especially, it is really hard to juggle both due to the demanding nature of the job; the hours can be antisocial and long. It's always been a lifestyle and not just a job for me, being a fine dining chef, work comes first and I think after having kids you could probably not do both together as well as you wanted to!”
Heritage Portfolio was very proud of Libby this year for being a finalist in the 2016 Game chef of the Year.
“How did this feel?”
“It felt amazing! Especially as the competition was then won by (the only other ever) woman! The standards of the 10 contestants was immense, the bar was well and truly set high, so being there was an honour in its own! I think it shows that once you are committed to the industry then there is not such a gender gap after all and that we are (of course) as talented! It’s all about changing perceptions!”
Do you think there is anything that you can bring to the kitchen – a female touch?
“Well we certainly like to organise and tidy more than the lads! Don't know if that's a girl thing or an OCD thing!
We can bring a calming influence too, not often me though.....I've been in too many full on fast paced kitchens to have retained any of my childhood innocence and long ago committed not beating 'em but joining 'em!”
Libby went on to comment that she has enjoyed working in the kitchen in the past with Aggi who is on maternity leave (the first time she has ever worked with a pregnant chef in 20 years of kitchen!). And also Suzi who works in purchasing and stores for Heritage Portfolio.