Sunway University Presents at Selangor International Expo - ‘Role of Culinary Education & the Career Challenges faced by Female Chefs’

The Fourth Selangor International Expo 2018 was held in recently at the Malaysian International Trade & Exhibition Centre (MITEC). This expo featured top-brand organisations within the F&B industry and institutions relating to food technology, food science, food service and halal certification; and representing the ASEAN nations. On top of that, the Professional Culinaire Association (PCA), a national member of the World Association of Chefs’ Societies, organised several events to highlight the importance of the culinary profession. There were MasterChef Culinary Workshops as well, showcasing exemplary cooking skills by experienced chefs in Malaysia who demonstrated authentic local and fusion cuisines.

Figure 1 - PCA presents Professor Stephenson with a Certificate of Appreciation for his presentation

The Food Forum also highlighted insights concerning the culinary industry. Professor Marcus Lee Stephenson, Dean of School of Hospitality from Sunway University, provided a presentation entitled: ‘Culinary Education: Career Building Trends and Developments’. According to Professor Stephenson: “In my presentation I stressed that there were many career opportunities not only within the kitchen environment, but also outside of the kitchen too. Crucially, from an educational standpoint, I emphasised the important interdisciplinary nature of culinary education. Here it useful to understand not only the practicalities of the culinary profession but also the scientific and social scientific dimensions too. On that point, I have to say that Sunway University is proudly making great advancements in terms of culinary educational provision within the region”.

Nur Amirah Haji Mazlan, Chef and Teaching Fellow from the School of Hospitality, Sunway University, also provided an important presentation concerning the facts behind the lack of female chefs in the culinary industry. Her Master of Arts (MA) Culinary Management in Birmingham, UK, provided evidence concerning the barriers of career advancement for female chefs in the professional kitchen. Even though female graduates from culinary schools have been increasing, their presence in the kitchen is still rather minimal compared to their male counterparts.

Figure 2 - Chef Amirah discusses the challenges female chefs face in the culinary industry

Her research has shown that female chefs are often stereotyped as being ‘weak’ and ‘girly’, and commonly assumed to be ‘unable to take on the job’ in any seriously manner. Most often, they are given the simplest tasks as it is presumed that the kitchen is not a place for them to display their skills and passion. Chef Amirah expressed: “This presentation implied that the industry’s working conditions hinder females from making career choices due to its long working hours and its hectic yet stressful environment. Both of these factors do not support family-friendly practices and policies. It is difficult to juggle between the chef-mother role because when children are at home in the evening, that’s when food businesses are alive. Therefore, work-life balance cannot be achieved, causing them to give up on their dreams to become a professional chef’.

Chef Amirah interviewed a variety of professional female chefs and further noted that the number of female chefs continues to dwindle, choosing different career paths which may not reflect their expertise and professional training. She also noted: “It is important for us, female chefs, to motivate each other and build connections as was being done by the Women Chefs & Restauranteur Association, in order to increase self-confidence and to fight for gender equality in the industry. Importantly, female chefs need to step up by continuously improving their skills and show the world their capabilities. And yes, it is possible to dominate the industry with female presence”.

The School of Hospitality at Sunway University has proactively encouraged female chefs to be represented in terms of its teaching staff and thus has a very strong female representation.  These staff members are able to share their skills, strengths and experiences while effectively educating students on culinary arts and culinary management programmes.