Kirsty Grant: head chef at Hotel Indigo

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Kirsty Grant is head chef at Marco Pierre White restaurant at Hotel Indigo in Glasgow. Here she talks about life as a female chef.

What inspired you to become a chef?

My mum. She was a career woman and an amazing home cook. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, and mum taught me how to cook. We had a herb garden and grew our own veg in a housing estate, which was very different for that time. We learned recipes from books in the library and I was making my own bread from around 8 years old.

What do you enjoy about your job?

The creativity, cooking is like art, it’s a way to express yourself. And it’s a high paced environment with an adrenaline rush! I also really enjoy the teaching side, bringing in new chefs and helping them to progress from college through different positions, then seeing them leave for new roles to progress in the brigade. I have, over the years, kept in touch with a lot of the people (over 15 years) and followed their careers along with helping out where I can. I think when people stay in touch it shows that you have done a good job with them. I once hired a girl I met at a party to clean dishes and she now works as a head chef in Soho. I previously worked as the chef de partie at Quo Vadis, which is the flagship Marco Pierre White restaurant in London’s Soho, so it has also given me the opportunity to work in different cities and environments, from the bustle of London through to the highlands of Scotland.

Kitchens are considered to be a high stress atmosphere, how do you cope with that?

I am very family orientated so spending time with my son, 16, on my days off helps. He keeps me grounded and stops me becoming (too) grumpy like most chefs.

TV chefs like Gordon Ramsay give the impression of a tense kitchen atmosphere with lots of shouting, is your kitchen like that?

I think it is maybe a bit overplayed for TV. My kitchen isn’t that much different, I probably swear more than Gordon! However whilst it can be stressful and it can be high pressure, I wouldn’t like to think of the atmosphere as tense. A brigade of chefs is like an army and there has to be a chain of command, some people think it is about control and shouting but it is also about keeping people safe (we work with dangerous equipment), whilst ensuring that our guests receive the best possible dish.

There are a lower percentage of women chefs making it to the top of their career, why do you think that is?

Trying to balance work and home life. Most head chefs who have families are male and have someone at home to support them with the kids. As a female, I have been lucky to have a family and friend support group to help me and I think that has assisted me in getting ahead in this industry. In a male dominated environment sometimes the banter can be a little off colour which can put females off. I do tend to hire a lot of females into my kitchen compared with places I have worked before, I feel there can sometimes be a glass ceiling in the industry and it is great to help them to shine. Now more than ever there are a lot of very inspiring female chefs who have both family and career, I am proud to be a part of that.

feature image thumbnail - Hotel IndigoDo you feel you are treated differently as a woman in this industry, either in a positive or negative way?

I think that when you go into a kitchen initially you are expected to be weaker, that you will cry when the pressure is on or that you won’t keep up. You have to work twice as hard to prove yourself, but you only have to do this once. I tend to find female chefs are more level headed and the guys lose their tempers more than the girls.

Working as a female chef do you think this offers something different to the industry?

I think it brings balance, in my experience when there is a good balance of males and females working together then it calms men down a little, and it pushes females to work a bit harder to ensure they are not just keeping up, but they seek to exceed their male counterparts in this industry.

What advice would you give to girls leaving school considering a career choice in the hospitality industry?

I would say to go to college first and get a good grounding in the basics, then to apply for jobs in kitchens where you are passionate about the style of food. Going on unpaid work experience can be a great way to gain more knowledge and experience different types of kitchen and cuisine, to learn what’s right for you. Don’t just think about the money, think about the chefs around you, your future, how you can learn and how they will bring your skills on.

Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill

Hotel Indigo, Glasgow