Meet Melissa – Mel – Hobby, chef du cuisine at QT Hotel’s Capitol Bar and Grill.
When Mel Hobby started her apprenticeship in the early 90s at a multi-hatted Sydney restaurant, she was among a large cohort of eager young chefs.
“On staff at any one time, we had about 15 apprentices and maybe two were female,” she told Region.
“You had to be better than all the boys to even get a look in. It was rough.”
Mel had early ambitions to become a lawyer but a stint of work experience in the office made her realise the job wasn’t for her. On her Dad’s advice, she tried out a role in hospitality and was immediately hooked.
As a young chef, Mel says she had to embrace her competitive side to get ahead; she’d been competing with her older brother all her life anyway so it was second nature. Other chefs assumed she’d go into pastry – a more traditionally female path – but Mel stuck to her guns and worked on the grill.
She attributes some of this success to the mentorship of the head chef who took her under his wing “like a little sister” and taught her working with meat, and she was also lucky to work with a female sous chef who was something of a role model.
These days, things have changed considerably. Mel says she’s actually lost count of the number of women in her kitchen. Having more women in the industry and positions of power has made it easier for young women to imagine themselves succeeding.
“It’s easier and more accessible [for female chefs these days]. It’s less of a boys’ club and there are a lot more top female chefs … there are actually those role models to look up to,” Mel said.
Having more women working in restaurant kitchens has changed the workplace culture and there’s been a shift in how women are treated, not only by their colleagues, but also by suppliers, industry reps and customers.
Mel has also noticed the women she works with now have a different style of cooking. She says there’s a little more natural finesse, and they are more inclined to take notice of small details rather than the ‘rougher’ style she was taught.
“I’m not saying that boys don’t have that [finesse], but the girls often have that a bit more naturally,” she explained.
“So my advice [to my younger self] would be to embrace the feminine side of things a little more rather than always wanting to be one of the boys.”
These days, Mel is finding inspiration in farming and butchery. She and some friends have bought piglets which are being raised on a friend’s permaculture property. She’s returning to those foundational lessons on charcuterie and is looking forward to the holistic nature of using the whole animal, butchering from scratch and making her own salami.
Read about more talented female chefs in Canberra, like Adrianne Davo from the newly opened Luna, who combines Filipino flavours with European techniques. Or Astrid Law-Kwang, the pastry chef at the Arboretum, Amy Ferreira from Tuck Shop, and Rosa Djapa who cooks authentic Indonesian classics at Rasa Rosa at Verity Lane.
Original Article published by Lucy Ridge on Riotact.