Giving value to differences

The best teams are those made of men and women. Word of Viviana Varese

08-01-2014
Viviana Varese, from Salerno, in a photo taken dur

Viviana Varese, from Salerno, in a photo taken during Identità New York 2013, in October. The successful experience of restaurant Alice will be back at Eataly Milano. The possible opening date is March 4th 2014

«What is the difference between a dish prepared by a woman and one prepared by a man?». I’ve been asked this question by lots of journalists. My answer has always been the same: «None!» In fact, I am convinced that it is very difficult to tell the gender behind a dish: I know of women chefs who use lots of common sense and prepare complex and articulated dishes, and I know of male colleagues who are capable of preparing dishes that are so aesthetical and harmonious that they appear to be the work of a delicate and feminine hand.

Behind a dish there are people with their masculine and feminine sides, which can be more or less developed. Each one of us expresses himself and his experiences. The feminine part is mixed up with the masculine one through sensitivity, intuition, feeling, complexity, intelligence, control, creativity and heroism... We are a mix of all these ingredients, we need to accept the differences and highlight them to create a personal style, we need to be committed to growing because this job leads us to a constant confrontation, to looking around us and inside of us, to dare and experiment, to overcome challenges with ourselves or with others.

I began to cook, in fact to play with pizza, at the age of 7. As a child, I used to help my mother in the kitchen, I would light up the fire in the oven, add the wood, clean the potatoes. I never asked myself is some of these tasks were more suitable for a man or a woman. At 21 I opened my first restaurant-cum-pizzeria, becoming the leader from the start, and learning this task by making lots of mistakes.

Vivana Varese, already one Michelin star at Alice restaurant in viale Adige, Milan

Vivana Varese, already one Michelin star at Alice restaurant in viale Adige, Milan

I didn’t suffer from discriminations, nor did I make anyone suffer from these. Men, women, different religions or skin colours: my staff and I have always considered diversity as a chance to grow and have a wider idea of the world. Then I became a chef (that is to say, I made people call me chef after the age of 30: before it would have been a very demanding word). Being a chef is not easy: you need to be a guide, you need to communicate even if you’re not capable of doing so... You need to learn because being a chef represents a school, a competition and your team is the temporary family with whom you share joys, efforts, satisfactions and angers.

Many young people who arrive in my kitchen have dreams and hopes. They see in me a fulfilled dream, but they soon realise this is a hard work, they discover I am a woman who can be very condescending, loving and emotional, but also a hard, determined, sometimes cold and strict person, but certainly one who does all this for the success of the whole team and for its growth forgetting the joy of this profession.

On the right, Sandra Ciciriello, Viviana's historical partner

On the right, Sandra Ciciriello, Viviana's historical partner

I can assure you that a mixed team made of men and women is much more balanced because the topics are the most varied (and not just football and sex :)). A kitchen is not just the super-cool destination shown on television and newspapers: it is a place for sacrifice and tenacity, love and dedication, but also alienation if you don’t have the instruments to remain anchored to reality and to your life. There’s lots of commitment, the hours quickly go by, sometimes with difficulty, but if you love this job, if you realise this is your road, this profession will give you lots of satisfaction because it offers a chance to be creative, to have fun and to be focused.

As many other people I have had my moments of discomfort in life, moments when my head was elsewhere. But I’ve always remained in the kitchen, concentrated, fully aware of the fact you have to be as precise as a clock. You have to move on as in an almost perfect dance. It is then that I understand how cooking can be a beautiful therapy because it makes you live in the moment, which is something that makes this profession truly beautiful. 

See also
The other side of the dish by Elisa Arduini
Weaker sex? Not at all
by Sara Preceruti
Double effort by Iside De Cesare
Dear Santa Claus by Ana Roš
I am a cook by Antonia Klugmann
Talent has nothing to do with gender by Aurora Mazzucchelli
It’s not easy but it’s not impossible either by Loretta Fanella
We’re not angels of the hearth by Cristina Bowerman