Filipino female chef, smiling with tan apron making a thumbs up sign in the pastry kitchen.

Men have long dominated the demanding restaurant business, with women only relegated to domestic kitchens, considered “too soft” for the demands of the rigorous food scene. Thankfully this is gradually changing, and female chefs are rising the ranks, running successful kitchens or their own food businesses.

Here are some female chefs who are unafraid to challenge the norm and what they’ve learned throughout their careers

Be True to Yourself and Your Roots

As a woman in the food industry, you may feel tempted to go with what’s “in” or follow the path of least resistance. Yet, as these female chefs prove, putting your signature can pay off well.

Marion Paggao, who worked with Purple Yam Malate but has now put up her own casual Asian joint, Crouching Mama, believes that staying true to yourself while making your mark is possible. “As a young chef, I still have so much to learn. But when it comes to flavor, I always go back to the idea of the food I am fond [of eating],” she says.

Gel Salonga, a finance executive-turned-pastry chef, also became successful by staying true to the flavors familiar to her. “I specialize in local flavors and ingredients. Being from Laguna, it felt natural to incorporate local delicacies into my products. More than making my desserts unique, I think it is an expression of who I am and where I come from,” Gel shares. “Marketing and embellishments can't make a bad product sellable. I guess my ‘voice’ is heard through the cakes and pastries I bake. They show my personality, my background, and where I plan to go in the future.”

“I like simple, uncomplicated food. I make things that I wouldn’t get sick of eating, and it’s also important that we don’t get sick of making them. And quality ingredients always,” Camille Ocampo of The Pastry Cart adds.

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Use Your Qualities to Your Advantage

Microaggressions can happen – whether in the kitchen or business. Portia Baluyot Magsino, the woman behind beloved establishments such as Isabelo’s and Rustic Mornings, shares that these instances are not confined to the kitchen.

“There was an incident a long time ago where I was among 25 chefs in Manila chosen to serve at this huge charity event. Most of the chefs were men – all hanging out, talking about what they were showcasing. No one spoke to me, not even the organizer,” Portia shares.

“I was thinking back then if maybe [it was] because I was just a home chef without a culinary degree and a woman. Out of the 25, only two spoke to me that night. Chef Jessie Sincioco saw me and asked me to sit with her. Chef Sandy Daza did, too,” she recounts.

Before Portia opened Rustic Mornings, she encountered people who doubted her vision. “A cousin-in-law asked me, ‘Who will go to your restaurant? Who are you that they will drive all the way to Marikina for?’” She kept her chin up and now reaps the fruits of her success.

On the other hand, Gel shares: “I think that the gender barrier isn't what it used to be. Some of our top chefs are women, like Margarita Fores. People can see women as meek. Instead of treating this as a disadvantage, I try to capitalize on it: angelic on the outside, fierce on the inside.”

Don't let norms define how you carve your path.

Marion agrees that there is a stereotype against women in the professional kitchen but also believes this shouldn’t hold female chefs back. "I think this is a norm in the restaurant industry because people associate the kitchen with the idea of physical work. More men really do it more than women, but it doesn't mean we can't. Working in the kitchen will push you to the limit. You will eventually learn your strengths and weaknesses. You just have to prove that you can do it and do it well.”

Camille adds that one should stand her ground, even when it means going against the grain. “I’ve always had a voice. Coming from a big family of strong women, we were always encouraged to stand our ground,” Camille says. “I think that translates to everything I create because I’m not one to follow trends or always give in to what people expect. I make food I like and believe that others will too.”

Camille says that people tend to underestimate her, yet she has consistently proven otherwise. “I think that because of my looks, people expected me to be sweet or a pushover. I’m far from that. I think I’ve established that,” she asserts.

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It Boils Down to Hard Work and Grit

Female chefs will inevitably face challenges. For Gel, it was about competing in a market where pastry brands were everywhere. “Making a name in a saturated industry was my main hurdle. I think ultimately, hard work, honesty, and grit will take you to your goals,” she says.

As for Marion, she believes in following through. “I like to think about how to express my ideas and prove that they can work. Once they are accepted, I just do my best. Of course, there will be times when things won't go your way. Keep trying and don't let yourself down. Continue to challenge yourself,” she shares.

That said, putting in the work doesn’t mean doing everything yourself. It also means and taking care of people, Camille shares. “I used to always be on the verge of a meltdown until I learned to trust people and delegate. I have a good, trustworthy team, and I make it my priority to treat them well. They say that the hardest part about running a business is managing people, but I think it’s the best,” she says.

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Female chefs are rising in the industry and making their mark in their own unique ways. These four inspiring Filipinas are proof that norms are but suggestions – if you’re up for the challenge.