Times are changing for women in the industry, says young chef

Alice Norman, founder of Pinch

Saxmundham chef Alice Norman, who founded Pinch and is celebrating International Women's Day - Credit: Pinch

Alice Norman was a high-flying London head chef when the pandemic struck.

Her top Mayfair restaurant was forced to close in 2020 as a result of the crisis and she had to find a new job. She headed back to Suffolk, where her parents live.

The now 29-year-old immediately set to work creating a new business from Maple Farm in Kelsale, near Saxmundham – an organic operation run by William and Miranda Kendall.

International Women's Day (March 8) aims to highlight the progress women have made. Alice believes that her industry is a hard one, but finally women are  breaking through.

For her there’s been no looking back since she returned to Suffolk. She started out creating top-flight meal kits under her own Pinch brand but has since moved the business on. She still does private catering which has been essential in keeping the business afloat, but she has now pivoted towards making her hugely popular cruller, a sweet donut-style pastry, which she serves to customers from her kitchen. She also makes things to sell in the on-site farm shop.

The cruller has flown off the shelves. “It’s just mad,” she says. This year she is keen to expand her Pinch café on the farm and create some savoury offerings – possibly sandwiches inspired by a recent trip to the US.

It’s not an easy industry to work in, she admits, as it is very hard work, but she feels she was lucky in having a good working environment.

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“My first couple of years in the industry I found really, really difficult. It’s tough, but there are some really good women in the industry who are championing all the right things,” she says. You have to be able to handle criticism – and work very long hours.

One of her inspirations is pastry chef Ravneet Gill who runs a platform called Countertalk where people in the sector can talk about their workplace challenges. Alice believes in the next five years there will be very many more women entering the industry as a result of the changes being wrought to improve conditions. She hopes that women like her will be able to succeed without having to make some of the enormous sacrifices of their predecessors.

Alice Norman's crullers made in her Pinch kitchen at Kelsale

Crullers made by chef Alice Norman at Maple Farm, Kelsale - Credit: Pinch

“There are some quite successful female chefs now in their 50s who were never able to have children because they had to choose their career,” she says.

“I have been cooking professionally for almost 10 years and I have noticed a huge, huge increase in girls coming into the industry and it’s becoming a better place for girls to work.”

She adds: “As a girl you have to be a bit tough as well and thick-skinned. As I’m getting older I’m definitely becoming more proud to be a woman in the industry.”