Written by Kasia Grobelny with The Motherland Blog & More!
Women have made great strides in the workforce across a broad spectrum of industries, however, many food industry veterans would agree that by and large, the food business is still led by men. But those numbers are changing fast and luckily we are seeing an increasing number of women enter the food space, especially in leadership roles. More and more females are opening up everything from hip bakeries to fast-casual restaurants, launching wine labels to running kitchens at world-famous restaurants and more. To quote Beyonce, “Who run the (food) world? GIRLS!”
Making sure that this female-led movement continues means that now more than ever, women must support one another. It starts from the bottom. Supporting young, aspiring female chefs and encouraging them to pursue their dreams is a critical component of ensuring more and more women will enter this male-dominated field. From the very beginning of her career, Anja Lee has been lucky enough to receive mentorship and guidance from various people in both her professional and personal life. Now she hopes to pay it forward to the next generation of female chefs.
“Throughout the course of my career, a few magic-making women have been inspirational in my world of cooking and business,” she said. Anja lists her mom and grandma with instilling a deep love for cooking at an early age. A host mom, Sylvie, from a study abroad trip to France also helped break her out of her culinary shell, teaching her how to create cuisine from all over the world. And just as important, “she also showed me how to cook with tasty wine and a good laugh every single night,” Anja added.
But it was a boss from her first job at a catering company — at the ripe old age of 13! — that cemented her passion and set her on the career path that she continues to this day.
“My first catering boss Melanie taught me everything I know about catering and working together as a family-like team to create delicious food. She’s always been an inspiration to just do what’s best for the customer and the team. She hired all these beautiful women to work with her and they’re all people I know I can reach out to any day for anything,” Anja said. That encouragement stayed with Anja, even as she moved through different jobs and career paths.
“I think it’s extremely important to have someone like Melanie because she was able to build me an example of what I might want to be one day,” Anja noted.
“It’s great to have a mentor who showed me it was very real and very tangible. If I hadn’t seen how her company worked from start to finish, I would have never seen the potential that I could also do this,” Anja added. The confidence Anja gained while working with Melanie has been invaluable in her own journey. She recognizes the incredible impact it made on her, giving her the courage to launch her own catering company and forge a unique and fun company culture in the process. None of this would have been possible, without Anja’s experiences of working with Melanie and seeing her do the exact same things she dreamed of.
“Having a woman to look up to is very relatable. If you only saw men running businesses you can’t really put yourself in their shoes, it’s just good to see a woman that’s so prominent and so dominant and know that you can do that also,” Anja said. Having female mentors and leaders in the culinary world has a tremendous impact on the future leaders of tomorrow.
So what words of advice would Anja share with aspiring female chefs?
“I’d say, stay in a place that makes you happy and where you feel comfortable. There’s nothing wrong with being told that you’re wrong, as long as it is approached in a way that gives you a means to learn and improve. Most importantly, sometimes it can be rough in the kitchen. But there are safe happy places where you can be you and cook, and if you can’t find that call me,” she noted before adding:
“Share what you’re doing. Share your recipes, share your creations. People want to hear it. It’s always going to be different.”