‘Equal playing field for men and women working in kitchens’

Conference in Galway to address gender balance in the catering and hospitality industry

If you’re a woman and you work in a professional kitchen or a restaurant, mark yourself absent on the roster for next Monday and Tuesday, July 18th-19th, and get yourself to Galway for Athrú 2016, a conference on gender balance in the culinary arts. Of course, if you’re a man, you’re welcome too.

London restaurateur and chef Robin Gill,, coffee entrepreneur Colin Harmon and Ashford Castle hotel food and beverage manager Éanna Hassett will be among the speakers at the conference, along with French lawyer, journalist and activist Maria Canabal, businesswoman and restaurateur Birgitta Hedin Curtin, and Michelin-starred chef Danni Barry.

The event is "gender neutral", and the divide is 50/50 among the keynote speakers and panel members taking part. "If we want things to move forward, it's a collective voice that's going to change things," says Galway PR practitioner Lisa Regan, who came up with the idea for the event, together with restaurateur Jess Murphy.

“Empowering women in the culinary arts in Ireland” is the theme of the conference, which has as one of its goals establishing a database of female chefs, restaurateurs and culinary arts professionals, “that would be available for judging, media and or to provide a female voice and point of view”.

The conference, organised in just four weeks, has come about in response to feedback from women working in culinary careers in Ireland, as a result of articles written in The Irish Times by Una Mullally and Trish Deseine.

Mullally highlighted the fact that none of the 10 individual category winners at the Restaurants Association of Ireland awards in May were women, while Deseine pointed out that there was only one woman among the 45 judges in the European rounds of the San Pellegrino young chef of the year competition.

“We’re sweeping aside damaging stereotypes and sexism in the arts, the police force, the army, and medical and legal careers. It is now time to consider how to make that happen in our restaurant and hospitality industries too,” says Deseine. “Athrú will provide a much needed innovative space for Irish women and men to come together and discuss how to leave inequality behind at last.”

Jess Murphy, chef and co-owner at Kai Café Restaurant in Galway, met Maria Canabal, president of Parabere Forum: Improving Gastronomy with Women’s Vision, at its annual conference, and invited her to become one of Athrú’s founder members as well as to deliver the keynote speech on Tuesday, July 19th. Colin Harmon of 3fe Coffee is the opening day keynote speaker.

“This is a very necessary conference”, says Murphy. “We want to ensure that we are doing everything possible to get an equal playing field for both men and women working in kitchens and in the hospitality sector.”

The conference is not exclusive to culinary professionals, and anyone is welcome to attend, with in excess of 100 people expected to participate. The venue is 56 Central restaurant on Shop Street in Galway, and tickets, €35 for the two days (9am-2pm) are available to purchase from Eventbrite.

For more details of the programme and speakers, see athru.net.

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