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For International Women’s Day this year, we fixed our spotlight on female chefs and the innovative w
FOOD

For International Women’s Day this year, we fixed our spotlight on female chefs and the innovative w

At the Capturist we are celebrating the incredible women out there who are pushing the needle, making a difference, and striving for excellence. The creators, the founders, the go-getters, and the game-changers, Women are leading the way in a myriad of sectors.

For International Women’s Day this year, we fixed our spotlight on female chefs and the innovative world of food. We interviewed 8 incredible chefs and asked these culinary experts to share their journeys, their trials and tribulations, and the best piece of advice they would give to a female chef starting out.

Head Chef Shilpa Dandekar at Pravaas and Pure Indian Cooking

Could you tell us about your journey of becoming a chef?

Well, my journey spans more than 4,500 miles. I started as a trainee chef with India’s famed Taj Hotel group in Mumbai before moving to the UK in 2005, which resulted in the discovery of a new, previously unexplored talent for cooking modern British food. Having spent some time working in restaurant pubs, I then became a sous chef at London’s Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Quilon. I learned everything I needed to know about precision at Quilon with Chef Sriram Aylur. Then when I worked with Raymond Blanc, I developed a passion for the intricacies of European cooking. I became Head Chef at the first Brasserie Blanc near Bank, which was the real starting point for me and my career.

This led to opening Pure Indian Cooking in Fulham with my husband Faheem in 2014. For me, creativity is what makes a chef stand out, and although my style of cooking draws inspiration from the diverse regional flavours and time-honoured recipes passed down through generations, I prefer newness over repetition, and I plan menus based on innovative thinking and optimum flavour that are completely different to anything else. This has led to the opening of our second restaurant, Pravaas, in South Kensington.

What has been your biggest highlight to date and what advice would you give to a female chef breaking into the industry?

I would say opening Pravaas and creating a menu with dishes that are completely unique to my style of cooking that no one else can take credit for with signature dishes such as Wasabi chicken tikka; venison dalcha – slow-cooked venison rack with pearl barley and black garlic pickle; and red snapper with palourde moilee.

My best advice would be to set goals, set deadlines and stay focused. When I came to the UK all those years ago, we had nothing. However I had a vision of what I wanted my life to look like and the type of lifestyle I wanted, so I set daily goals and worked hard to achieve them. I don’t believe in doing anything half-heartedly, so once you’re passionate about what you’re doing it is easier to stay motivated. I also think the key to success is keeping your personal and work life separate – when I’m at work it is all I’m thinking about, when I’m at home my focus is on my three kids.

Chef and Founder Alice Di Chiara at Mezzo

Could you tell us about your journey of becoming a chef?


I was born and raised in Rome and I’ve always loved hospitality and worked every role in the field since uni, starting with waiting tables to eventually moving into the kitchen. I took a kitchen role in a little restaurant in Trastevere (Rome) and quickly ended up pretty much running it. That was my baptism of fire and what made me gain a deeper understanding of the job and what it involves. Hard work, big sacrifices but also great satisfaction. But my passion for food started way before then. I’ve always had a thing for cooking since I was a little girl and started helping Nonna in the kitchen cooking up a storm for “la famiglia” every Sunday.

Where did the idea of starting Mezzo come from?

In 2019 I moved to London and couldn’t find good authentic Italian food so I decided to pause my career as a lawyer to start Mezzo. This was a way I could share my passion for my roots and for Italian regional cuisine in general. Where we come from, to share food is to share love. After the amazing inkerbator experience with Kerb we’ll be trading at Cow Cross Yard on Wednesdays in March and April and then from Easter weekend (included) we’ll be at Lower Stable Street Market in Coal Drops Yard – King’s Cross, every Thursday to Sunday.

What has been your biggest highlight to date and what advice would you give to a female chef breaking into the industry?

I guess my biggest highlight would have to be starting and running my own business (making it through the pandemic as well) and turning my passion into something tangible.

My advice to other female chefs breaking into the industry would be if you are passionate, go out and do it and don’t be frightened about the fact that it is a heavily men-dominated industry (especially at the top). And secondly, always try to keep the spark ignited by getting into cooking professionally. I soon realised that once your passion becomes your job sometimes it is not that much fun anymore, so you always have to find ways to keep the fire burning and to fall in love with it over and over again.

Sous Chef Sam Hutchins at TT Liquor

Could you tell us about your journey of becoming a chef?

My journey started when I was 18, I was recently out of school and I was on job seekers allowance, they sent me on an ‘active job search ‘ course, where I had to apply for a certain amount of jobs each day, I came across an advert for a chef agency, unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the agency but the guy I spoke with, Sean Bosley, was really helpful. I explained my situation and that I had no experience in professional kitchens but I was very interested in cooking, I’d been lucky enough to grow up with two amazing Grandmothers who were both great cooks and taught me a lot in the kitchen already.

He arranged for me to go to a couple of different places that were looking for a commis chef, the first place was a hotel in Chelsea, the Codagan Hotel, it wasn’t for me, I didn’t feel a connection to it. The second place was a little country pub out near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. It was a family-run place serving really good quality fresh seasonal food, there was also a small restaurant that held rosettes at the time and a handful of rooms for bed and breakfast.

I absolutely loved my trial shift there, everyone was really nice and it felt very comfortable, cherry on the cake was that it was a live in position, so within 2 weeks of my trial shift, I was packed up and moved out of home too, two birds with one stone. That was the beginning of my journey which has lasted 20 years and still going strong, I’ve lived and worked in many different places since then, with each place making me a better chef and able to move up the ranks.

What has been your biggest highlight to date and what advice would you give to a female chef breaking into the industry?

It’s hard to pick just one highlight of my career, so I’m gonna have to say two. Firstly, when I was 21, I was working at a gastropub in Oxfordshire, and very surprisingly it was taken over by Marco Pierre White, I was lucky enough to work with his chefs producing his menu, I worked the fish section for 18 months and it was a turning point in my career, I knew it was what I wanted to do.

My second highlight was becoming a head chef by the age of 30, it was a goal I’d set myself and I did it by becoming head chef of the urchin, shellfish and craft beer pub in Hove, Brighton in 2015. Fish and shellfish are my passion so it was perfect and we made Brighton’s top 20 restaurants after 15 months of opening.

My advice for any female chefs starting out would be, to be strong, assertive and believe in yourself. Set goals and commit to reaching them.

Chef and Founder Michelle Liu at Mama Chen’s


Could you tell us about your journey of becoming a chef?

My journey to becoming a chef is deeply rooted in my family’s culinary traditions. It all started with watching and learning to make dumplings with my grandma Chen, a cherished memory that sparked my passion for cooking. My dad, a head chef, played a pivotal role in my culinary education, passing down invaluable skills and knowledge. Witnessing my parents effortlessly whip up meals daily, creating incredible flavours from scratch, inspired my fascination with fresh ingredients and the desire to cook.

How did Mama Chen’s start out?

Mama Chen’s originated from a craving for dumplings during lockdown restrictions. I started making them at home and shared the process on social media, receiving an unexpectedly enthusiastic response. Friends and family, intrigued by my homemade dumplings, began asking if they could get some too. That’s when the idea struck—to offer dumpling cooking kits for delivery in my local area. The response was beyond encouraging, making it evident that there was a significant demand for this unique experience.


As lockdown restrictions eased, Mama Chen’s evolved from my home kitchen to testing the waters with small weekend pop-ups. Perkyn’s, a wonderful coffee shop in Tottenham, generously allowed us to host our dumpling evenings, attracting locals and earning positive feedback. Stepping out of my comfort zone and into a commercial kitchen was a pivotal moment. It provided the space needed for practice, learning, and improvement.

This period of transition allowed Mama Chen’s to showcase our products to a wider audience, increasing our social media following and exposure. The positive reception caught the attention of brands and companies, including The Gantry Hotel. This collaboration led to a dumpling bar residency, offering casual dining and drawing in both local diners and customers from afar. Mama Chen’s journey has ultimately been transforming obstacles into opportunities for growth and connection.

What has been your biggest highlight to date and what advice would you give to a female chef breaking into the industry?

The biggest highlight of my journey so far has been the opportunity to share my passion with others through Mama Chen’s. Our most recent residency at The Gantry London, Hilton, has allowed me to bring the joy of handmade dumplings to people and celebrate the essence of family and food, which has been immensely fulfilling.

For aspiring female chefs breaking into the industry, my advice would be to embrace your unique story that sets you apart from others. Always be on the lookout for new opportunities to create your platform to showcase your talent and dishes.

Chefs and Founders Ocean and Sumiko Lawrence at Banzai Kitchen

Could you tell us about your journey of becoming a chef?

[Ocean] I learned how to cook through my mother/business partner, Sumiko, and she also learned how to cook from her mother. Learning to cook has been passed down from mother to daughter through generations in our family. I’ve also worked for a lot of street food businesses for the past 3 years, so I was able to learn about different cuisines from around the world.

Where did the idea of starting Banzai Kitchen come from?


[Ocean] Ever since I was young, my mum used to make our traditional Chicken Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken). I became obsessed with the flavours and soon enough, our friends and family also became obsessed. Once we realised how much others enjoyed it, our dream was to share our dish with the world.

As I grew up in a mixed Japanese Caribbean household, it was common for us to mix some Japanese food with Caribbean food. That’s when we decided to make it a fusion. At the moment our business is still very young. We started trading in the summer of 2023 as a part-time gig. However, after doing the inKERBator ran by KERB, our goal is to trade in bigger markets and events. The best place to find out where we are is via our instagram @banzai.kitchen

What has been your biggest highlight to date and what advice would you give to a female chef breaking into the industry?

Our biggest highlight was getting accepted into KERB’s incubation programme. During this programme, we learned how to elevate our street-food business, then practiced that knowledge at Cowcross Yards. We also got to work alongside 7 other amazing women-owned traders which made the experience much more wholesome.

Our advice for female chefs breaking into the industry is to have passion! It can be daunting going into an industry with little experience, but as long as you have a passion for food, that is what is most important.

Chef and Founder Gina Lely at Hanoi Ca Phe

Could you tell us about your journey of becoming a chef?

I grew up in an all-female household until I was 13 years old. Life was beautiful and often challenging in this environment, but looking back I really appreciated seeing the strength and tenacity of my mum, sister and grandma. We didn’t always see eye to eye, however, I knew that these were amazing women, who could focus on their passions and make a success of it! I was born in Hanoi, Vietnam and came to England at the age of two, where I grew up in Hackney, East London. My grandma Quyen (aka “Queenie”) had an enormous influence on me as a child, I would spend hours watching her prepare ingredients and cook amazing dishes. Eventually, she allowed me to assist her in our very basic little home kitchen. I have always wanted to retain our family recipes, feeding everyone I meet. And yes, I’m a big feeder too! This is how we show love and respect in Vietnam.

Queenie, who lived to the grand age of 103yrs was my source of inspiration to become a chef. She was diagnosed with Dementia in 2015, it was during this time that I sought to find ways to keep her stories and recipes alive; and so, Hanoi Cà Phê was born in 2018. Since then, It’s been an epic personal journey of discovery, through human interaction and my love of story-telling and food!

What has been your biggest highlight to date and what advice would you give to a female chef breaking into the industry?

Since starting Hanoi Cà Phê I’ve always dreamed of having a food truck, taking our Vietnamese Street food across the country! In 2023 we designed and custom built a 1976 vintage Citroen HY truck. She is beautifully bright red and yellow, and of course, we named her Queenie! To female chefs breaking into the industry, I would advise them to be focused and willing to learn from everyone. There will be many approaches to doing things, listen to your heart. Pursue your dreams, even though it may seem challenging at first….It’s always worth it in the end! Your talent will shine when you’re true to yourself.


Chef Angela Ambler at Latin Soul

Could you tell us about your journey of becoming a chef?

My journey of becoming a chef started roughly 10 years ago during several trips around South America. Before that, I was doing a different job, moving from bank consultant to insurance broker. I felt passionate about the special and unique flavours of the local food in Chile, all cooked with love, almost with religious commitment from people who were still using recipes inherited from countless generations.

I have been very lucky to be present when they cooked these special dishes, and in some cases even luckier to be well-considered by those amazing people and could learn some original recipes. I felt my journey was just at the beginning, and once again my luck brought me to London, where my brother has a street food business. With him, I started to collaborate as a chef and manager, so I could learn the secrets of good management in the street food field.

I know very well that we never stop learning, and in fact, my journey is always considered at the beginning because I think it is the only way to improve, give my customers the best food possible, and transmit to them all the love and passion I put into my dishes. That is the reason why I travel to South America every time I can, to try to find different flavours for my recipes, and to visit local places to try new dishes. I am always looking for improvement and keeping my passion alive!

What has been your biggest highlight to date and what advice would you give to a female chef breaking into the industry?

The highest point in my career was getting accepted into KERB’s incubation programme, a fantastic opportunity to improve in all senses. I’m receiving a lot of feedback and support with every aspect of the business, allowing me to work alongside other businesswomen and share personal experiences. There is always room for improvement, and I am very happy to receive advice from people, who are available to help and see me grow.

My advice for any woman wishing to start this amazing adventure is to follow your passion and never give up in the face of difficulties, which sometimes puts you down but also makes you strong, and your determination, in the end, will make the difference between a successful or defeated business person. Look for advice if you need it; we cannot do everything by ourselves.

Photography by Nyla Sammons

#chefs #femalechefs #internationalwomensday

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