The hospitality industry is male-dominated — just look at the stats. A 2022 Australian study found that women represent about 53 per cent of the hospitality workforce, yet they only occupy 45 per cent of management positions.
It's safe to say, it's a boy's world out there. But recently, we've begun to see how much the hospitality industry is changing — and how women are steadily leading the charge in the cooking world.
One place this change is unfolding is, surprisingly, right on our screens. Starting with Dessert Masters, Channel 10's new dessert cooking show that sees ten of Australia's best pastry chefs, chocolate connoisseurs and baking experts duke it out for the title of the first-ever Dessert Master. But unlike in the hospitality industry, half of the cooking leaders being showcased are female.
The cast includes Kirsten Tibballs, Anna Polyviou, Jessica Liementara, Kay-Lene Tan, Rhiann Mead, and of course, judge Melissa Leong. It's safe to say that Dessert Masters is breaking the mould when it comes to female representation in the hospitality industry — and it seems the cast thinks so, too.
While Tibballs maintains that she's never been treated differently anywhere she's worked for being a woman, she says the experience of being surrounded by women in the Dessert Masters kitchen was fantastic. "It's great to see women in the industry showcased," she tells Refinery29 Australia. "There are amazing female pastry chefs, but it definitely is a male-dominated industry."
Standing side-by-side next to some of Australia's best pastry chefs and dessert cooks might be a surreal experience, but to do it alongside a bunch of women who have earned that same medal was, according to Tibballs, "fantastic" — so much so, that during filming, the women bonded and formed a self-proclaimed "girl crew".
"To have Melissa there (who is an absolute sweetheart), and Anna Polyviou, who's a good friend of mine, [as well as] Kay-Lene, Rhiann, Jess Lemon — to have those girls... we did make a little bit of a girl crew," she says. "It was really nice. And they are so exceptionally talented."
"Whenever we are going through something — whether it's throughout the show or off the show. To have that female support and love, it's so important."
If you're getting the feeling that the Dessert Masters kitchen is a supportive environment, you'd probably be right. For Tan, this was largely because of the strong relationship between the women. "We're all such great supporters of each other. We always try to help each other out, regardless of what the situation is."
"We're always there to listen to each other. Whenever we are going through something — whether it's throughout the show or off the show. To have that female support and love, it's so important."
"I'm a big believer in collaboration over competition," Tan says. "I don't feel that we all have to be competing against each other to see who is better."
Of course, the female representation on Dessert Masters isn't just limited to the contestants, with former Masterchef Australia judge, Melissa Leong, showcasing her own expertise. "Melissa Leong has always been an incredible, versatile judge as well," Liementara said of Leong. "She's always had a great palette for different diversity and not just picking one side so it's great to have her back on the show."
Judge Melissa Leong previously told Refinery29 Australia that it's about time we move away from the cliche that all restaurants are just a bastion of brutish male energy. "There are incredible women leading the charge and changing the conversation," she says. "Yes, there are a lot of dudes, but women aren’t only making pastry, they’re [also] owning restaurants, slaying it as head and executive chefs, somms (sommeliers), you name it, we’re doing it."
MasterChef: Dessert Masters is now airing on Channel Ten and 10Play.