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This is the first profile of a woman chef from the Europe South WACS region. Thank you very much, Srecko, for your recommendation and, Mojca, for providing such thoughtful answers to the questionnaire! The posting of this portrait coincides with the first regional panel discussion on the changing faces within the culinary profession. The discussion will be held in Belgrade in conjunction with One World Cup and the Balkan Culinary Cup(May 21-23, 2009) and has been organized by Afrodita Monastirlic, one of the travel stipend recipients for the first Forum for Women in WACS at the Dubai Congress last year. Afrodita writes: “I am expecting a lot of woman chefs from the Balkans and abroad with some well known guests - literates, business woman, etc. My aspiration is to spread this program in all Balkan countries.”
What made you decide to enter the culinary profession?
“It provides enormous opportunities for creativity and diversity, and it lacks monotony.”
Who did the cooking at home? Did you watch or participate?
“I originate from a family who ran a gostilna , a typical Slovenian restaurant. My father was the chef of the house and took care of the children and prepared divine dishes for the guests and us. By the age of 10, I had taken over most of the family cooking – lots of soups and salads, which are still my favorites! Desserts did not occupy my attention very often.”
At what age did you first enter the food service industry? What was your first job?
“Prior to my primary school years, I remember washing glasses when I was helping my mother behind the bar. Then, still as a child, there were countless hours in the kitchen when we used to cover chicken parts and steaks with breadcrumbs. Later, as a student I combined helping at out in our business with waitressing at a café.”
What were important stepping stones to reach your current position?
“Knowing and trusting the right people… And having the courage to leave home and gather experience and self-confidence. “
Do you have a mentor?
“My present boss has recognized my potential and, with her contacts, opened quite some opportunities for me to expand my practical training in famous restaurants.”
What, if any, problems did you encounter in your career?
“The classical problem: balancing my family life with the demands at work. “
What, if any, was the greatest obstacle?
“Without continued education (i.e. training at restaurants) a successful career in the line of cooking is very hard. Long absences are the hardest burden on the family, specially the children. Unless, of course, you are born as a super-mum!”
How did you overcome that hurdle?
“I don’t believe I have managed it completely. “
What is the male/female ratio in your current job?
“In Slovenia, there are mostly female culinary instructors at the vocational catering schools. However, when it comes to professional kitchens, women are mostly employed as cooking assistants. There are only a few exceptions: and those are women working as chefs in smaller family-owned restaurants.”
What are your current work conditions?
“I have 8 to 10 hour work days. Occasionally there are longer hours, and sometimes I work on weekends. I use weekends also for studying and preparing lessons.”
Are you married and do you have children?
“I am divorced and have a 12-year-old daughter.
How do you balance child rearing and your career?
“My parents have been there to help me many times.”
What is your advice to young women entering your specific field?
“Make the most of your time while you are without family and let yourself do anything that your male colleagues do.”
What are your interests outside the culinary field?
“Applied art and design, marketing, books, films, music, and mountaineering.”
Do you manage to integrate those interests in your life?
“My present job enables me to integrate many interests and talents. “
What are personal and professional interests that you would like to pursue within the next 5 years?
“I wish my daughter decides on a proper education to make it possible for her to fulfill her professional desires and to be happy. For myself, I hope to get a master’s degree and to write an interesting cook book.”
In your opinion, does the foodservice industry address problems specific to women adequately?
“It does too little. There are only 25% female students in my classes, which speaks for itself. “
How could the foodservice industry better address such problems?
“It is still the employers who hold all strings in their hands. A different family friendly human resources policy could vastly improve conditions for women.”