FEMALE CHEFS IN SOUTH AFRICA: La Petite Colombe’s Andrea Bruce

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

It’s Women’s Month and given that we love food, we want to celebrate the powerful female chefs of South Africa. These women represent what it means to rank their own needs second or even third by facing obstacles under high pressure, working long hours, and getting a few cuts and burns that comes with working in a kitchen. We want to thank these female chefs for continuing to push their restaurants to top-tier status and for sharing their passion for food with us.

CELEBRATING WOMEN IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY – Andrea Bruce

Andrea Bruce
Andrea Bruce

In the sixth instalment of our Women’s Month series, we spoke to Head Pastry Chef at the renowned La Petite Colombe restaurant, Andrea Bruce. Andrea always knew she wanted to work with food but didn’t quite picture herself in a professional kitchen. That all changed however when straight after school she went to study at Silwood School of Cookery and completed the three year Grande Diploma course.

In those three years, she was able to work in a few kitchens around Cape Town and really came to love how a kitchen runs. In that time, she did a block at La Colombe and despite being really nervous before starting (because she knew it was a male dominated kitchen at the time) she ended up fitting in really well and loving it.

Andrea says:

‘I was trained by Glen Williams who was the Pastry Chef at the time and learnt to look at pastry from a completely new perspective. It was from then that I realised I prefer the way pastry works and how it makes you think.’

After Andrea Bruce graduated Silwood she ended up working at La Colombe permanently once the restaurant had moved to Silvermist. After a while she took a brief break and travelled overseas. Andrea ended up working in the French Alps for a bit until ultimately deciding to return home and come back to La Colombe to take over running pastry from Glen Williams. She has been based at La Petite Colombe as Head Pastry Chef for the past 3 years.

Andrea Bruce

INTERVIEW WITH CHEF Andrea Bruce

Why did you become a chef?

As clichéd as it sounds, I spent a lot of my childhood cooking and baking with my Yia Yia. Coming from a Greek family, A LOT is revolved around food and mealtimes and it was something that I always enjoyed and kind of came naturally to me. I decided to study at Silwood after school, it was always something I was interested in and at the time there was nothing else I saw myself doing. I had no idea the scale of the food industry at the time and all the doors that it opened. I did my Silwood third year at La Colombe and everything kind of changed from there!

When are you happiest at work?

There’s nothing better than having a hectic day ahead of you and the people in your team just come together and work really well and bash everything out together all while having a good time. Everything goes perfectly and you look back at the end of the day, at what initially seemed impossible, and everyone’s really proud of what they achieved. Sometimes when small jobs seems repetitive its always so good to hear when people are really amazed at what you’ve created.

What’s the most valuable attribute of being a great chef?

Stamina. Being a chef can be so physically and mentally draining. Other attributes such as passion, creativity and organisation are just as important however if you don’t have the thought process of just putting your head down, focusing and trying to be better in anything you do, no matter how small or grand the task, all the hard work and sacrifices over time won’t seem worth it.

What has been your most meaningful, memorable meal?

Geranium in Copenhagen. It was my first time eating in top restaurants other than within South Africa and I honestly couldn’t fault a thing. There was so much beautiful attention to detail in every aspect of the food, service and restaurant space. The whole experience was so special.

How does your personal heritage feature in your food?

I don’t use specific flavour combinations that I grew up with (especially in desserts) but I do use the concept of simple flavours executed well instead of overcomplicating something where it isn’t necessary.

What’s the most valuable thing you have learnt in the kitchen that translates in your life outside of the kitchen?

I used to be a pretty sensitive person and I would get stressed about things out of my control. Over time I’ve definitely gotten a lot tougher. Not necessarily because kitchens are tough to work in but because if you take everything personally and get stressed about things you cant control it creates a domino effect of emotions. It’s better to focus on what you can do and control and take the rest from there.

What has been your experience during lockdown and how have you had to evolve your business/kitchen.

I think we underestimated just how long the current restrictions would affect the restaurant industry. Initially the time off was relaxing in a strange way as we were literally forced to do nothing. We enjoyed cooking at home more than we normally do and it was nice to spend time with family which doesn’t usually happen for such a long period of time. Eventually it got more stressful as reality of the current restrictions sunk in. Some chefs got together to help out with the La Colombe Dine-In Experience until restaurants were allowed to open. At the moment we are operating as “normally” as we can with the alcohol and curfew restrictions and health protocols. We are very grateful for the guests who have supported us so far at La Petite Colombe since reopening and we hope to continue (hopefully with more favourable conditions) soon!

There are a lot of differing opinions about “Best Female Chef” awards versus awards that recognise achievements in the industry with no gender attached, with good arguments for both sides – do you have an opinion on this?

I agree somewhat with both sides. Unfortunately at the moment we are the minority in the industry, especially in more senior positions. Obviously some recognition is better than none. However, it is disappointing that there is a need for gender specific awards. It shouldn’t have to single out woman and insinuate that female chefs are not in the same league as men. We all work just as hard and deserve the same recognition and respect. Hopefully one day it can be more equal.

Why is it important to have women in the field?

Lets be honest, we are generally more organised and we get stuff done! We are determined to do well and prove ourselves and I think that’s a good quality to have in team members.

What is the future for female chefs in SA?

Hopefully we are able to support each other more and continue to work towards having equal ‘rights’ among our peers.

If you enjoyed reading about Andrea Bruce make sure to check out our interviews with ProtegeEpiceHazendal, and Tjing Tjing’s female head chefs and of course, culinary powerhouse Zola Nene.

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