Introducing Chef Danielle Alvarez
Celebrating women’s history and contributions to hospitality goes beyond International Women’s Day – that’s why we’re committed to amplifying women’s voices in hospitality. This week, we were lucky enough to speak to world-renowned chef Danielle Alvarez about her journey as a woman in hospitality, the women who’ve inspired her in the kitchen and beyond and her dedication to raising up other women in the industry.
Danielle Alvarez has worked in some of the world’s top kitchens, including The French Laundry and Chez Panisse, before taking the helm at Sydney’s two-hatted open-concept farm-to-table restaurant, Fred’s.
It’s not enough to just be humble and quiet about it. You actually do have to talk about it and you have to get out there and stand up in front of people and make sure that people recognise your great qualities. So If a man can do that, then I definitely can.
Chef Danielle Alvarez
On Industry Mentors
Doshii (D): Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today! Who have been your female role models as a woman in an often male-dominated industry?
Danielle Alvarez (DA): I worked for a woman named Amaryll Schwertner. She had (and still has) a really beautiful restaurant right on the San Francisco Bay in the ferry building. And she was tough. Working there was really incredible because you went straight on the line. You were right into cooking and I didn’t really feel like I was ready for that, but it was just the name of the game. Completely trial by fire. That was the first time that, I think, I had been exposed to that kind of cooking.
And then from there, I worked at Chez Panisse for several years, which was maybe one of the best cooking experiences of my life. Opened and run by Alice Waters, who wasn’t in the kitchen when I was there. But there’s a long history there and I really saw how she ran things. I saw how democratic and peaceful everything was. There was no shouting, there was no screaming, there was none of the very typical kitchen scenes that you may think of when you think of restaurants. It just wasn’t that. And so it really opened my eyes in a lot of ways to doing things differently.
D: Do you think that a lot of the stereotypical things that we associate with a kitchen environment stems from a lack of female representation in the kitchen?
DA: I think these days, even kitchens that are run by men, it’s more about the philosophy of the food. I’ve found if you’re in a kitchen that focuses on cooking food for flavour and you’re really connected to the farmers and the soil, you’re kind of just naturally a more gentle person. I think you have to be a lot more receptive to what’s going on in nature in order to create something beautiful on the plate. Kitchens that I don’t like, that are very stereotypical, are ones where it’s very much about ego and a chef’s vision and achieving that vision at all costs. And yes, I think that is a more typically male thing, though I have seen some women run a kitchen that way. But I think that really is changing.
On Making Space for Women
D: Do you think that attitude or stereotype has put young women off from entering the industry?
DA: Yeah, I think so. For sure. Another barrier for women is having families and there just isn’t enough support, there’s not enough flexibility.
Back when I was working in Chez Panisse, I worked with a lot of women that became pregnant, had children, and came back to work. They would take breaks to be able to breastfeed their children. A lot of things that are just really unheard of in restaurants, you know? The restaurant leads really tried to make space for women to do what they need to do to raise their children while working in the industry.
But that’s rare. Unfortunately, lots of times, restaurant life is so rigid and structured because you have to be open for lunch. You have to be open for dinner. So I think compounding that with the stresses of being a mom, I see how difficult and challenging that still is for many women.
D: What have been your biggest challenges in the industry, personally?
DA: This is something I’ve had to learn recently. I think that men do a better job at advocating for themselves in terms of asking for pay and other things that women don’t ask for. Which is terrible. I actually hired a business manager to help me with this because I thought to myself, ‘I need to actually approach this differently or else I’m never gonna get ahead. And I really do have to start making sure that I get as much, if not more, than a man would get in whatever that I’m doing.’
It’s not enough to just be humble and quiet about it. You actually do have to talk about it and you have to get out there and stand up in front of people and make sure that people recognize your great qualities. So If a man can do that, then I definitely can.
On Raising Other Women Up
D: I read an interview with you recently where you had put an all-female kitchen team together for an event and talked about women generally preferring not to toot their own horn. Can you elaborate on that?
DA: Yeah. Any chance I get, when I get asked if there are other chefs I want to work with, I will always bring onboard another female chef and they are inevitably really uncomfortable with the spotlight. They don’t want to get up and talk in front of everyone and it’s not as though I’m super comfortable with that. But I think I’ve just kind of given myself up to the fact that it needs to be done. If I can help them in any way by promoting their name, that’s something I want to do.
D: Love that! Who are some of your favourite female chefs working in Australia right now?
DA: Some of my great friends who actually I’m getting to cook with coming up in a couple weeks. It’s an event called The End of Summer Harvest and it ended up being an incredible group of female chefs. O Tama Carey, who is the Head Chef at Lankan Filling Station and Jemma Whiteman who is the Head Chef at Ante. And Trisha Greentree, who is the Executive Chef at 10 William Street and Fratelli Paradiso. And then someone who I think is just a powerhouse doing amazing things and opening restaurants is Jacquie Challinor. She’s incredible. She leads big teams, she opens big restaurants, which I’m just in awe of and, yeah I can’t say enough great things about her.
Female-run kitchens are somewhere that I want to be.
Venue Manager – Porch and Parlour
Chef Danielle Alvarez
On Advice for Young Women in Hospo
D: What advice would you give to young women who are dreaming of being chefs or just are just starting out the industry?
DA: I would say, definitely work for good people. If you want to work with more women, work for a woman. As I’ve said, female-run kitchens are somewhere that I want to be. And that’s how I learned to cook, was being taught by women. It just felt really gentle and nurturing and never made me fearful in the way that some male kitchens do. But also, find someone who makes delicious food that is the kind of food you want to make and go work for them. Hospitality is one of the most interesting, most fun industries that you can be a part of. People that work in restaurants are some of the best people on the planet. And I have really enjoyed being a part of that.
At Doshii, we believe in highlighting our hospo heroes and Danielle Alvarez is the perfect embodiment of our values of connection and service. She’s tenacious, talented and dedicated to amplifying the voices of others. We’re proud to feature her this International Women’s Moth and look forward to following all her achievements in future. Thank you Chef!