Publié le 04/03/2024

Women Chefs and Sommeliers
Driving the Transformation of Their Profession

The hospitality industry is undergoing a positive transformation, marked by a welcome increase in diversity. We spoke with seven women chefs and sommeliers, documenting journeys and experiences from the bustling kitchens of Seattle to the precision of culinary culture in Osaka.

Women Chefs and Sommeliers|Driving the Transformation of Their Profession

Chef Norka Mella-Munoz - Wharekauhau Country Estate, Featherston, New Zealand

The hospitality industry is undergoing a positive transformation, marked by a welcome increase in diversity. We spoke with seven women chefs and sommeliers, documenting journeys and experiences from the bustling kitchens of Seattle to the precision of culinary culture in Osaka.

These powerful women, occupying senior positions in the worlds of wine and the culinary arts, weave a rich tapestry, reflecting the evolving landscape of their profession and providing inspiration to the next generation.

A culinary fusion

Norka Mella-Munoz
Wharekauhau Country Estate, Featherston, New Zealand

Norka Mella-Munoz defines herself as ‘Chiwi’, Chilean-Kiwi. Originally from Chile, she moved to New Zealand in her 20s, and says her Chilean roots have been enriched by new ones sown in her new country. Now chef at Wharekauhau Country Estate, this is a place she calls home, where the ingredients she cooks with have been grown in their own gardens.

Many years ago, when I was working in a restaurant in Patagonia, we hosted a couple from New Zealand,” recalls Norka. “When they received their grilled lamb, they asked for mint sauce. This request confused me: it was the sauce we use for dessert! We all ended up in the kitchen, preparing the sauce to season the meat; we did not speak a common language, so food was our way to communicate. Savoring this combination of flavors helped me grasp the world is full of culinary possibilities. At that moment, I decided to embark on a journey of exploration and learning, driven by the desire to uncover the diverse and uncharted realms of global cuisine.

Her love and passion for cuisine are not confined to the restaurant: they extend to her home, where she spends free time cooking with her two children. “When I see a nice piece of meat at the butcher, I can't resist and, at home, I enjoy teaching my son the best way to cut every part and we share the joy of creating our dinner side by side.


Trust in the process

Aisha Ibrahim
Canlis, Seattle, Washington, United States

Aisha Ibrahim is the first female executive chef in over 70 years at restaurant Canlis in Seattle, USA. Born in the Philippines, she had no interest in cooking until, following an accident, she found herself stuck at home and discovered her zeal for expressing love through food and the power of hospitality.

I find very interesting how fine dining is changing these days. It is not the same story over and over: I see other people's expressions of childhood coming alive on their plates,” says Aisha, her voice filled with contagious joy. “We have a dish on the menu that is my favorite food my grandma used to cook for me. It's an homage to her, prepared with the products of this region–it tells the story of this vibrant, beautiful woman who was such a significant part of my life.

In her kitchen, a sign reads 'Trust the Process’. It represents the often-imperfect nature of career paths as they traverse through the world of hospitality. When it comes to inspiring future generations, Aisha is a strong advocate for having patience–in holding out for the best outcome. “'Trust the process' is the biggest message for future generations; it means being patient with every single outcome. The good will be in small pockets and, behind that, one has to absorb and learn from everything else, like the imperfect. It means being more mindful, patient, understanding and present.

A passion for sharing 

Manon Isnard
Le Domaine du Mas de Pierre, Saint-Paul de Vence, France

Pastry chef Manon Isnard crafts exquisite desserts at Le Domaine du Mas de Pierre, a luxurious resort nestled in the lively heart of her home town, Côte d'Azur in the South of France. At just 28 years old, this young, creative and dynamic talent guides a team, mostly consisting of women, in delivering an exceptional culinary experience.

In the kitchen, Manon mixes the flavor of citrus fruits and the scent of orange, combining them with her own childhood memories, creating desserts that she defines as “a souvenir of my life, rooted in my childhood memories and that is deeply influenced by the classic taste of globally celebrated French pastry tradition as well as the local products from the land where I grew up”. 

Described by her colleagues as tenacious, persistent and an extraordinary talent with a strong character, Manon  is devoted to her profession and particularly passionate about the process of creating a new dish. “With just a few simple ingredients, you can make a multitude of desserts. The possibilities are endless. Creation is infinite.” Another component of her work that brings her joy and satisfaction is the maxim ‘Sharing is essential’–“Whether in the transmission of knowledge and savoir-faire as well as in the sharing of deliciousness.

Nurturing future talent

Alexandra Himmel
Restaurant Lafleur, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Alexandra Himmel, head sommelier at the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Lafleur in Frankfurt, Germany, is leaving an indelible mark in the world of wine thanks to her unswerving passion and dedication. Since birth, she has been connected to vineyards, cultivating a profound love for wine that runs deep within her very being.

Alexandra leverages her gender as a source of strength, especially in her interactions with guests. When attending tableside she places paramount importance on treating each customer as a singular entity, allowing herself to be swept away by the unique tapestry of their preferences and idiosyncrasies. “Wine is a very sensitive product and I appreciate the work of the winemakers and their vision. I want to transmit this passion to my customers,” she says.

She also feels a responsibility to pass on her knowledge, highlighting the particular importance of nurturing upcoming women in the industry. “In the world of wine, tradition has long dictated the narrative, with male sommeliers often taking center stage,” she says. “Mentorship is crucial, providing a support system and guidance through the challenges that may arise in the demanding world of wine service. We've achieved progress, but there's more to be done.” Yet, she adds, a powerful transformation is occurring as more women step into the spotlight, challenging stereotypes and breaking down barriers–a part she is playing herself.

An inspiring partnership 

Diana Peixoto and Ebelia Mora Alonso
Pepe Vieira - Restaurant & Hotel, Poio, Spain

On one of the last stops of the famous Portuguese Camino de Santiago, at the extreme northeast of the Spanish coast, is Pepe Vieira Restaurante, where sommeliers Diana Peixoto and Ebelia Mora Alonso collaborate to curate a distinctive wine list, drawing on their respective differences.

Despite a relatively short time working together, the synergy between Diana and Ebelia is evident. They describe their partnership as a fusion of different profiles, emphasizing the richness that arises from their diverse experiences. They describe themselves as “melding together”. “Two different profiles always have much more to contribute to a wine list like ours,” says Diana. “We complement each other.

The two women belong to different generations and complement each other's differences. “Our age disparity, to me, signifies that Diana's youth brings a lot to the team, especially her enthusiasm, which is balanced by my calmness,” says Ebelia.

This harmonious and dynamic team both pass on their knowledge to the rest of the front-of-house team through regular wine tastings and winery visits. “The more knowledge there is in the room at all levels, the better the customer experience will be,” says Ebelia. Diana adds: “Our job is to bring the vineyard, the grape and the producer closer to the customer. Creating that ‘bridge’ is an unforgettable experience.

A passion sparked by a love of manga

Azumi Hamabuchi
Kashiwaya Osaka Senriyama, Osaka, Japan

Azumi Hamabuchi is the sommelier at Kashiwaya, a prestigious three-Michelin-starred traditional Ryotei restaurant located on the outskirts of Osaka, Japan. Knowledge and dedication, she says, are the foremost skills for a sommelier to cultivate.

Azumi, raised in the Japanese countryside, had never visited a restaurant until the age of 20. Her life took an unexpected turn when she had the opportunity to savor the Bourgogne wine Grand Cru Clos Saint-Denis. “I was impressed for the first time by its fig-like aroma and ripeness,” she recounts. It was a moment that unconditionally changed her life. “I experienced the excitement of ‘deliciousnes‘ even though I did not understand it, and I instantly wanted to know more about wine.” Further inspiration came from a surprising source, she adds: “During that period, a manga about the sommelier's profession, named The Drops of God, was published, and I believe it had a significant impact on me.

Azumi felt driven to dive into the different nuances of wines and learn how to pair them with various foods. “It is only through knowledge and experience that one can truly appreciate the balance and maturity of a wine,” she says.

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