Traditionally, the home kitchen has been viewed as a woman’s domain, where she is expected to prepare meals for her family and run the household. In most professional kitchens and bars, however, it’s another story: Three-quarters of the world’s top chefs are men. At Four Seasons properties worldwide, however, women are closing the gap.
They’re introducing a new approach to hotel and resort kitchens and bars, creating nurturing environments while reimagining dishes and drinks in a way that’s both playful and confident – and they’re winning prestigious awards. For example: Anne-Sophie Pic, the chef behind La Dame de Pic London at Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, was one of the first women to be awarded three Michelin stars. Today, she’s sharing dishes inspired by the Alpine location at the new La Dame de Pic – Le 1920 at Four Seasons Hotel Megève. She’s one of an impressive list of Four Seasons women who are blazing new trails as culinary leaders. Here, a handful of them share their menus for success.
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL NEW YORK DOWNTOWN
Maria Tampakis grew up watching women cook. She spent summers in Greece, where her grandmother prepared dish after dish to feed her large family. Back home in Brooklyn, her mother was a pastry chef and culinary instructor, creating works of art with puff pastry.
It’s no surprise, then, that Tampakis gravitated towards a culinary career.
“My grandmother has always been a rock star chef, cooking for the masses and making sure everyone was always well fed,” she says. “And my mother has been a constant support and inspiration.”
Explore the flavours of New York
Tampakis learned first-hand that female chefs come to the kitchen with a different type of strength from their male counterparts, which can be helpful when dealing with the big personalities of Michelin-starred chefs like Gordon Ramsay, with whom she worked in London, and Heston Blumenthal, a molecular gastronomy pioneer.
“Large, mostly male kitchens need that female touch to keep it all in line, to achieve more of a balance,” she says. “The culinary world has changed, and the aggressive, male-driven, egotistical kitchens are a thing of the past. Women are proving that when they are given the opportunity, they can not only excel but shine in their kitchens.”
She’s bringing that balance to Four Seasons Hotel New York Downtown, where she was recently named executive chef. Her menus highlight fresh and local ingredients, inspired by those languid summers in Kalamata, Greece: “This summer, we had Faroe Island salmon with Long Island corn, Jersey tomatoes, fresh herbs, Greek aged feta cheese, red wine vinegar and Greek olive oil,” she says. “It’s not unlike something that my grandmother would’ve made. I think she’d be quite pleased.”
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL MADRID
As a guest bartender at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival, Sophie Larrouture was challenged to craft a collection of cocktails inspired by creative women of the 20th century. Included among her concoctions: The Dietrich Show, made with rum, blackcurrant and maraschino cherry liqueurs, fresh tarragon, and lime juice.
The Paris native held several jobs in the hospitality world before working her way up to Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva, where she helped the Hotel’s Le Bar des Bergues earn a spot on Forbes Travel Guide’s list of the World’s Best Hotel Bars. She also won the Best Bartender of the Year award for Switzerland at the 2016 World Class competition – impressive for a woman in a male-dominated industry.
Toast your time in Madrid
“Mixology requires a strong product knowledge base, a touch of creativity and a hint of boldness – wrapped up with sensitivity,” she says. “The first three qualities might be found in both men and women, but it’s the last one, that touch of sensitivity, that creates the stage for women to express themselves, and that marks the difference within the industry.”
Those qualities are on display at gastropub Isa at the new Four Seasons Hotel Madrid. As bar manager, Larrouture oversees a team of nearly 30, serving inventive cocktails with a minimalist approach – exploring only a few flavours at a time and playing with their origin, intensity and textures.
“Guests are looking for authenticity, and they want to taste the personal signature of the mixologist,” she says. “When we can share that through developing a new cocktail that’s truly unique and authentic, an intimate connection is made.”
Growing up in a small Southern Thailand province, Sumalee Khunpet worked in her family’s bakery business, learning to make her mother’s ka-nom-kai (Thai egg cake) recipes by heart. “I loved seeing the joy on people’s faces when they’d take a bite,” she says. “I knew that this was what I wanted to do.”
With her parents’ encouragement, she moved to the island of Koh Samui and got a job as a kitchen assistant in a steakhouse, where a female chef spurred her on – even though back then, female chefs were still rare in professional kitchens. “She taught me how to cook Thai food and French food,” Khunpet says, “but most importantly, she gave me the confidence to keep cooking.”
Thirty years later, Khunpet is still cooking – but now she’s leading the kitchen. As chef de cuisine at KOH Thai Kitchen at Four Seasons Resort Koh Samui, her culinary style is relaxed yet authentic. It’s important to her to share the flavours of the destination with guests.
“Thai cuisine for me means home, and sharing that feeling with our guests,” she says. “I try to craft a story that’s relevant to our culture and that the guests will enjoy, like massaman nua, a curry of cardamom-scented Wagyu beef cheeks that originated from Malaysia, but was adopted by Thailand in the 17th century. It’s how I stay connected to my culture, and how I can pass it on to others, too.”
Savour Thai cuisine in Koh Samui
Cornelia Sühr knew she wanted to become a chef by the time she was 8 years old. Growing up in a small town in northern Germany, it just seemed natural – her mother was a chef, her older brother was a chef, and her sister was a pastry chef. Her twin brother would become a baker.
“Being a ‘female chef’ was never something that stood out. You either knew how to cook or you didn’t,” she says. “Plus, I loved eating. It was something that we, as a family, always did together. I always connected food with being with others that I love.”
That connection is what drives her passion, she says. After working in the kitchens of several Michelin-starred chefs, including Alain Ducasse – whom she credits with influencing her classic, refined, ingredients-based cooking style – she is excited to lead her own kitchen when she takes the helm at Jean-Georges Philadelphia when it reopens this winter at Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center, where she’ll focus on flavours that remind her of home and celebrate her roots.
Guests can taste those roots for themselves – try the smoked trout, home-cured and served with horseradish, Granny Smith apples, beetroot crème fraiche and dill. “It tastes like what I grew up with and it feels true to me,” she says. “It’s traditional, but elevated.”
Try new dishes in Philadelphia
FOUR SEASONS RESORT CHIANG MAI
Yanisa Wiangnon’s career has followed an unexpected recipe for success – one that didn’t actually start in a kitchen. After graduating with a degree in clinical and community psychology, she realized there was another way she could help others improve their moods: fresh, oven-warm pastry. After all, she says, “desserts make people happy – I love this about my job.”
She struck out on her own and opened a bakery, fine-tuning her Viennoiserie skills and developing her own style. She earned a reputation for creating new and exotic sweets made with seasonal fruits, like durian cheesecake and lychee panna cotta.
Treat your sweet tooth in Chiang Mai
“I love to reinterpret classic pastries,” she says, “like croissants filled with white chocolate and strawberry, or the giant young coconut brioche. The Kao Mak Cheesecake is made with fermented rice that’s grown and fermented at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai – it brings the classic dish to a whole new level with a unique taste and texture.”
She credits her playful style to a kitchen environment that’s become more open over the years – and more welcoming to women. “It’s becoming far more acceptable for female chefs to lead teams,” she says. “Female chefs have a great sense of beauty and attention to detail. We’re trying to find our way within the old social structure. The biggest hurdle we face is believing in ourselves. Women should feel like we’re ready – we can do it!”
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