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'A lack of black role models is holding us back' says female chef Michelle Trusselle – The Voice Online

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Michelle Trusselle, founder of Myristica, a supper club serving Caribbean inspired cuisine, writes in her first column for Lifestyle about the issues she faces as she ascends in the industry
‘SO, WHAT’S it like being a female chef?’ is one of the questions I’m asked most frequently.
I never did understand why that was one of the first things people think when they hear I’m a part of the industry. It always seemed strange to me… like would you ask a nurse what it was like to be a female in uniform? What about a teacher?
Then, I realised that most people imagine a male, pale and stale character with a plump physique and stains on their apron when you ask them to describe a chef. Therefore, from that initial mindset, there is an educational process to go through when it comes to perceptions and stereotypes.
Don’t get me wrong, the industry has come a long way since the days of tall hats and lots of swearing behind the closed kitchen doors. But, I feel we have a way to go yet… and it’s especially true for those in the industry from a black or minority ethnic background.
These prevailing attitudes affect women like me – women in the cheffing business. Sometimes people have good intentions. I have been offered help, even forcibly helped against my will when I’ve been spotted in the kitchen about to move a heavy pot.
I’ve found myself saying time and time again, ‘a woman in her business or area of field doesn’t need a man to jump in to move the heavy pot for them if they don’t need them to!’.
“The industry has come a long way since the days of tall hats and lots of swearing”
I could give you various examples of how and when this has transpired in real time for me and go into why the collective affects of the subtle micro-aggression underpinned by a smidgen of misogyny (relax, I said smidgen), are the bane of my chef existence, but I want to start my first column in Lifestyle talking about women in business.
In the hospitality industry we see many ground-breaking female chefs, which is good to see.

But where are the ones from a black or minority ethnic background represented here in the UK?
I recall an article that I saw in The Guardian a couple years back that really resonated with me. The headline was: ‘Only two black head chefs in UK’s Michelin-starred restaurants’. Why? I think that one of the main barriers to the industry from those of a black or minority ethnic background is a lack of role models, a lack of representation.
If we as black people cannot see ourselves represented in the industry then it doesn’t encourage us to go after that goal. If we are one of the ones who do chase a goal in an underrepresented area of the field, it’s hard to imagine ourselves at the top when we aren’t ever shown black people – black women – doing what they do, at the top. There’s no one there to relate to. It is no secret that we are underrepresented in the industry. We are clearly here but we certainly aren’t represented. The exact reasons for that could be open for endless debate, but all I know is that we need to push forward even more so to be heard and seen.
Late last year I was able to work with the immensely talented Julian George and chef Mike Reid and a whole host of chefs to create the Made You Look series of photographs with Chef Signatures.
This project was designed to celebrate 30 professional chefs in some of the UK’s best places that remain unknown. To be in a room all together was nothing short of inspiring. We all noticed it, we all felt it and we all said that just by shooting these pictures, being in each other’s presence and being able to relate to each other with words unspoken just showed us all how important this project is. The atmosphere in the room was welcoming and collaborative, it is something that I was so pleased to be a part of!
Even more importantly, my son got to see his mum and others like her up in lights on London’s famous Oxford Street. This project alone gave me a hope for change and hope for a new dawn of black professional chefs who push the boundaries of cuisine whilst being black and proud.
Being a black woman in a male dominated industry has certainly had its rewards. I have worked at the well respected La Trompette in Chiswick both before and after it achieved its Michelin star. I have cooked for ultra-high net worth individuals including members of parliament and heads of state and I have been a head chef at one of the most successful global management consultancy firms in London, a position I held for over two years before starting my own venture.
During this time, though, I’ve learned along the way how to handle myself. I’ve found that within the male-dominated hospitality industry the sound of a woman can be drowned out.
“We don’t want our daughters to have their voices drowned out by the males in their business”

It’s not uncommon for female chefs to be isolated to the pastry section rather than being on rotation and working the various restaurant sections like the guys do. I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder with male chefs on the line and have led my own for a number of years.
We can do what the men can do, sometimes dare I say it even better. That is why I believe that we really need to try our best and collectively push to be represented no matter the industry we are in.
Yes, it’s not fair! Being a black woman in most industries is hard enough already, but we as black women need to push forwards in whatever field we are in, in order to be recognised and give hope to the younger generation.
We don’t want our young black daughters to have their voices drowned out by the males in their business. We don’t want our young black daughters to forcibly be ‘helped’ by those with good intentions as they insist they carry our heavy pot and define our role for us.
We don’t want our young black daughters to be slowed down when they are on the way to the top. We don’t want our young black daughters to be behind closed doors.
We want them to be seen and be heard. We can do it ourselves, we can represent ourselves and we can push to be recognised as the women in business that we are.
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The Voice Newspaper is committed to celebrating black excellence, campaigning for positive change and informing the black community on important issues. Your financial contributions are essential to protect the future of the publication as we strive to help raise the profile of the black communities across the UK. Any size donation is welcome and we thank you for your continued support.

The Voice Newspaper is committed to celebrating black excellence, campaigning for positive change and informing the black community on important issues. Your financial contributions are essential to protect the future of the publication as we strive to help raise the profile of the black communities across the UK. Any size donation is welcome and we thank you for your continued support.
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