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It is my pleasure to introduce you to Ivanna Barbieri, who was nominated as a Women in WACS profile candidate by fellow Lady Chef and Regional Women in WACS representative for Europe South, Gabriella Bugari. Ivanna is highly involved in her regional and national chefs’ associations which, we have come to see, is still unusual for women. She has the freedom to do so because her children are grown.
As Dr. Gabriela Berechet, the Women in WACS representative for Europe Central, found out through a poll among women chefs in the Romanian chefs’ association, women have to give their all to advance in their careers while also fulfilling their family obligations. The struggle to balance the professional demands with their often still very traditional roles as wife and mother leaves little to no time to engage in professional organizations beyond basic membership.
Ivanna’s replies to the Women in WACS questionaire reveal a traditional European way of coping with the problem of child rearing while continuing to work in the food industry. As part of a family of restaurateurs, Ivanna herself grew up in the kitchen, and it was her mother who took turns with her and helped her raise the children.
That part of Ivanna’s bio reminds me of accomplished German chef Barbara Schlachter-Ebert who was profiled as one of the first Women in WACS. Barbara is the executive chef of the restaurant in the hotel that is run by her husband. Their children are growing up at the work place, supervised not only by the parents but also the grandparents who passed the baton of running the family business to their children.
While this scenario may occasionally occur in the United States (I am thinking of Alice Waters’ daughter Fanny at Chez Panisse), it is not the norm. Often working far away from their families, with little affordable child care available to them, it may be particulary hard for American women chefs to satisfy their goal to have a family while also advancing, or, at least, staying in their careers.
What kind of formal education do you have?
“I hold a diploma from the Institute of Human Sciences, and a business management diploma for tourist operations. I was the chef at La Taverna dei Picari, and have been teaching courses at vocational training centers and hotel schools, as well as private schools.”
What made you decide to enter the culinary profession?
“I come from a family of restaurateurs and grew up in the kitchen.”
Do you have culinary childhood memories? Were there favorite dishes that you still occasionally prepare?
“The cooking in my childhood home was done by my mother, also a chef, as well as by my grandmother. Our family specialty is pasta made at home with a rolling pin, as well as all the traditional recipes from the Emilia-Romagna region.”
At what age did you first enter the food service industry? What was your first job?
“I started working in the dining room when I was 8 years old and went into the kitchen at age 14. My first job, which spanned 10 years, was as a saleswoman in a dairy.”
What were important stepping stones to reach your current position?
“After learning different aspects of the trade, I opened a restaurant and finally decided to dedicate myself to teaching the younger generation to develop and enhance national and regional food culture.”
Did you or do you have a mentor?
“Besides my mother and my grandmother I learned many tricks of the trade from chefs Angiolino Natali, Carlo Latuga and also Maurizio Guidotti.”
What, if any, problems did you encounter in your career?
“The main difficulty for me pertained to my ability to work very long shifts, without neglecting the family and especially the upbringing and education of my children.”
What, if any, was the greatest obstacle?
“I had no particular difficulties, because I always tried to update and also be in step with new technology.”
How did you overcome hurdles?
“I overcame all obstacles by the force of will and passion for the job.”
What is the male/female ratio in your current job?
“In our business we do not work with men or women but with professionals, whose love for the job makes up for any differences.”
What are your current work conditions?
“The job of teaching keeps me busy for 10 hours a day, five days a week. On Saturday I work 5 hours, and I also teach evening classes four hours per week. Two weekends a month I dedicate to continuing education. My vacation time is up to 2 months a year.”
Are you single, married or in a partnership?
“I am separated.”
Do you have children? What age are they?
“I have two grown children: Marco, who is 34, and Désirée, who is 22.”
How did you balance child rearing and your career?
“I preferred to divide all of my time between work and family, sacrificing entertainment and other activities.”
Did you have support while you raised your children?
“My mother participated in the raising of my children, and we organized ourselves so that she was in the kitchen when I was with the children and vice versa.”
What is your advice to young women entering your specific field?
“Experience as many aspects of our field as possible to gain a broad perspective on what you can use at your workplace. Also: create your own business or work style.”
What are your interests outside the culinary field?
“Now that I have more time, I also dedicate myself to travel, reading, movies and collectibles, plus a little gym.”
Do you manage to integrate those interests in your life?
“It is not always possible, but at least I try.”
What are personal and professional interests that you would like to pursue within the next 5 years?
“The activities of the chefs’ federation allow me to stay in close contact with colleagues and, periodically, to update my knowledge. Interests include helping others to graduate with diplomas in education and perfecting Wellness Cuisine.”
In your opinion, does the foodservice industry address problems specific to women adequately?
Ivanna took this question literally: she thinks that the food industry is freeing women to pursue their own interests and careers by offering them quality food products that can be brought to the table in a short time.
She thinks that the food industry needs to more aggressively develop products for people with specific dietary needs, such as food allergies and intolerance, increasing the standard of quality and food safety, especially fighting food fraud.