It’s not easy, yet it’s not impossible either

Indeed, you can work in a world dominated by men. As long as you have a very strong temperament

09-12-2013
In the portrait of Lido Vannucchi, the pastry-chef

In the portrait of Lido Vannucchi, the pastry-chef from Fiuggi Loretta Fanella, now busy with several consultancies in Italiy, her family and a project in Tuscany starting in 2014. On Sunday February the 9th, 3.50 p.m., she will have a lecture at Identità Naturali, a format within Identità Milano 2014 congress

I began my career at 15, for fun, working for a couple of months during the summer break from catering school, because I was getting bored at home and I couldn’t prepare birthday cakes for my cousins every single day. After graduating I took this job seriously. I was only 18 and I already realised that Fiuggi, the place where I was born, was too small and wouldn’t give me many opportunities in the future. I then decided to take a 3-month internship with chef Fabio Tacchella in Verona. I promised to return, but I never did.

The parting wasn’t a drama because my passion was stronger and even though the kitchen world was a domain of men, at the time even more than now, I wasn’t discouraged. I remember when, after the internship, they offered me to be in charge of the first courses station because that position had become vacant. I naively accepted, without understanding what awaited me. The chef de cuisine who, during service, would shout in my ear: «What, did you think it would be easy? You women need to suffer too… You wanted to have our same rights, didn’t you…».

However, I acted as a steel woman (girl, that is). I had to prove that I was capable, in fact that I was even better than the others. Over time I conquered everyone’s trust: I was made in charge of starters and pastry. If I think of where I am today and remember of those times, I can only laugh... And almost everywhere, the story was always the same: many colleagues, later confessed, thought «What does that girl, so delicate, so skinny and relaxed expect? Here, you’ve got to run and work, she’ll never make it». In a short time they realized they were wrong.

I mention this to underline the prejudgement that as women we often have to tolerate. It’s always a little hard to become part of the team when there are obstacles to overcome, often unexpectedly and without reason. A few years ago this was stronger than now: in the kitchens, you would find a woman every ten men. Today, instead, we find more women, especially in pastry-making. Of course television has encouraged kids to try this profession. I don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, what’s important is that there’s an evolution.

The strange and unjust thing is that we, since we are small girls, grow up with this image of our mothers and other women cooking. Why can’t it be the same, to be the head of a professional kitchen and be called “chef”? I also need to add that it often happens that women take advantage of being women to profit on the excuse that they are weaker: «I can’t lift the flour bag or the water, can you do it?», or «today I can’t come to work because I have my period or a tummy ache». Such an attitude is dangerous.

For a woman, being a chef is much harder because it includes the main role of the family, from mother to woman to cleaning lady. However, as our job requires many hours of work per day, it’s very difficult to combine all these tasks. If only the government would lower the taxes on employees, if it made it easier to hire and would be more careful of one’s free time. Even I, having always put lots of commitment and passion in my work, have always said that you need to work to live, and not live to work.

I was lucky enough to have many good experiences when I was very young. I worked in important restaurants that allowed me to establish myself and have the freedom to stop, later, to build a family, even though it was hard to leave the daily life at the restaurant. For a woman chef, it is important to have by your side someone who can stand seeing you at work in the kitchen for so many hours, seeing you travel frequently, and share great part of your time in an environment full of men. It’s not easy but it’s not impossible either.

Related articles
We’re not angels of the hearth by Cristina Bowerman
Two or three things I wanted to tell you by Loretta Fanella


Sections

Chefs' life stories

Men who, for a moment, leave pots and pans to tell us their experience and point of view