A female chef does it tough. No doubt. It’s a tough gig even for men. And meeting up with Angharad Jones at Smolt Kitchen, to glean her story, seemed a perfect fit. We ate well and shared battle tales.
Angharad (pronounced ‘Ang – harrid’) doesn’t work at Smolt. She’s taken some time out from cooking to have baby girl number three, and pursue some other creative interests. But we both wanted to give Smolt Kitchen a try, and it was close. Angharad was also an enigma to me – visible on Face Book, knowledgeable, erudite and talented. Obviously.
I was fascinated to discover her journey: as a female chef, a university student and graduate, and whether she is done with the cooking world. Her husband, Carl Wise, is the chef at the Homestead Pub in North Hobart, and writes the food blog, Yippie Pie Yay, so their world is food and the industry – almost. There’s more to this girl boss than meets the eye.
“If you’re getting a pile of food for a tenner, someone’s getting f***ed over…”
This is Angharad’s take on her life and times, in her words:
“Where did I start? I’ve always loved cooking, but after school I went to uni because that’s what was expected of me. Two years into my Bachelor of Arts, I jumped ship to a chef’s apprenticeship at the Brooke Street Bar and Café (previously, and now again the Telegraph Hotel). I was the seventh apprentice to start that year. It was September.
Why? The chef there was notoriously tough, absolutely a product of the macho kitchen culture which is exceptionally tough on women chefs; short-tempered and not one to suffer fools gladly even on a quiet night. I still hear her yelling at me now, 17 years later, when I’m chiffonading red cabbage, to do it faster. But, I lasted a year – a record for that kitchen by a long shot.
After that year I was moved on to the Royal Hobart Hospital; a lesson in large scale industrial cooking. On my last day I found a red thread in custard. It looked suspiciously like seafood extender, and I just handed it to the head chef and asked to go home early.
The whole system then was called a ‘group training scheme’, and the theory behind it, giving us all experience in different venues, was great, but it fell apart for me when the company overseeing my apprenticeship failed to find me a placement. So I moved on to Casablanca, under chef Kumar who, again, was old school and fond of yelling. But I could keep up with the pace and put up with the shouting, so I lasted over a year there as well (it was also my first stint working with my brother, who is now the chef at Burger Got Soul in Sandy Bay). While I was there, I went back to my neglected uni degree.
I had vague ideas then of going in to teaching but I got married, had a baby, got divorced, and found myself working in Aged Care kitchens. It honestly wasn’t all bad; I particularly liked doing the tea and biscuit trolley, because all the residents loved the person in charge of the biscuit tin and I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with everyone. I still remember that Connie had to have 1 cm of unsweetened black coffee with a teddy bear biscuit.
I spent some time at home raising children and having something of a career crisis on the North West coast, but then I moved back to Hobart and I went to work (briefly) at Straight Up for Jess and Chicko, and did a stint at Drysdale to refresh my skills. After that I ran the kitchen at Frankie’s Empire, which I loved.
Saffy, baby number three, put an end to that, so I started making ‘Little Fierce’ my range of toddler’s clothes for markets, and the occasional birthday cake. If I could do anything now? I’d have a pie van with Carl, but business is so tough, so that’s a bit of a pipe dream at the moment. Maybe I’ll finally make the move to teaching. Maybe.
How do I feel about the industry? I have such a love/hate relationship with it, now. The hours are crap, the work is physically and mentally hard, the pay is never great. I think retention is going to be an ongoing problem, for a lot of reasons. Kitchen staff are rarely prepared or trained for promotion – there doesn’t seem to be a pathway to management like there is for front of house, and even fewer opportunities if you’ve taken time out of work to have a family – so a lot of us are staring down the barrel of this antisocial, poorly-paid, backbreaking work into our 60s (or 70s, if the federal government has its way with the pension age).
For new apprentices thinking of the industry? Don’t go in thinking it’ll be like Masterchef. And the customers? You know, I’d like them to know that if you’re getting a pile of food for a tenner, someone’s getting fucked over. Simple as that. People expect so much then get outraged at prices. It’s just bonkers.
If you feel that there’s no difference between a parmi for $25 at the Republic, and a $10 parmi at the Waggon and Horses, then I don’t know what to say.”
And with that, interview finished, Angharad and Saffy tucked into delicious pancakes with berries for them, a chickpea soup with parmesan dumplings for me, and we mused on the industry and where it’s going. Smolt Kitchen gave good food and good service, but my soup was served in a cold bowl. Sacrilege. So sharpen that up, guys.
Angharad Jones is a one off. If she stays out of the industry, then it’s the industry’s loss, but one can only wish her every mountain peak in her climb through life. And if you’re at the Richmond markets when she’s out there, check out ‘Little Fierce’. They’re dynamite.
Smolt Kitchen / 107 Hill Street, West Hobart, TAS 7000 / Ph: 03 6231 0828 / Open 7 days 8am – 9pm / $$ /