Female Dominican chef: machismo still reigns in the fine dining sector


Dominican Maria Marte, who went from dishwasher at Madrid’s Club Allard to executive chef at that same restaurant in 2013, criticized the machismo culture that still prevails in the fine dining industry and the difficulties that women have in combining their family duties with their jobs.

The 40-year-old chef - who returned last year to the Dominican Republic after spending almost 16 years abroad and leaving the kitchen of Club Allard, which received two Michelin stars under her management - said in an interview with EFE that the “role of women in fine dining is a shame, because everything is a matter of machismo.”

“A woman with Michelin stars lives for her restaurant, she has to forget about her husband, children, house and everything. That’s where the problem lies. There isn’t a single man who hasn’t learned to cook from a woman. However, they are the ones who succeed in fine dining. Why? Because of the same belief that men belong out on the streets and women belong at home - at least I grew up listening to that and to this day I’m still hearing it,” she said.

Marte, a self-taught cook who now owns a local catering company for private events, recalled with humor some of the bizarre situations she experienced at Club Allard, where, even though she was wearing a chef’s coat, people would ask her where the chef was and when she answered that she was the chef, they would reply: “No, it’s impossible for you to do this.”

“I’ve experienced that, I’ve gone through very complex situations because I’m a woman,” she said, adding that “there are many men who don’t believe that you, as a woman, can run a gourmet kitchen, and that’s a shame.”

She said that male cooks are questioned less “than we are. I experienced it first-hand. We’re questioned a lot, they look at us with a magnifying glass or over our shoulders. It’s like we’re being watched all the time, as if we were not capable of being as good or better than they are,” she said.

Marte, who won the Spanish Royal Academy of Culinary Arts’ National Gastronomy Award for Best Chef in 2014, three years later with Luisa Orlando, general director of the Club Allard, won the Eckart Witzigmann (ECKART) international award in the innovation category.

She has allocated most of her ECKART prize - about 50,000 euros ($56,000) - to one-year scholarships for three low-income women from the Serrania School in Jarabacoa, to work and train at Club Allard, where she began her own career in 2003.

Marte explained that the scholarships are aimed at allowing the students, who already have been in Madrid for a few months, to “come back with a degree ... which is what I never had, so that life is not as difficult for them” as it was for her, given that she never received a diploma.

“They respect you more with a degree, and what I want is for them not to go through what I went through,” she said.

Marte proudly said that she has contributed to changing the view of Dominican women in Spain and Europe.

“A while ago there was a very bad view of Dominican women in Spain and Europe, and thank God I managed to change those newspaper headlines for something nicer: they started to talk about the happy cook,” she said, adding that she was very excited to read about Dominican women in a different way, one that portrayed them as “hard workers, humble and cheerful.”

By Carmen Jimenez.