Go into any restaurant kitchen in Australia and you’ll find men are often the majority. As chefs increasingly enjoy a level of mild celebrity, it means the equally hard-working women in hospitality rarely share the same limelight.

While there are many excellent female chefs in the city we could celebrate, we took the opportunity to meet the women in Melbourne’s hospitality industry who, for years now, have been getting on with it and making magic in restaurants; the ones who keep our glasses topped up and who know what we need before we do.

They’re often the quiet achievers of the restaurant world, the ones who orchestrate and maintain the consistency you feel around you at the haunts you keep returning to. Actually, they are probably a big part of what makes your favourite restaurant, your favourite. These are the people taking care of you front of house (FOH).

Kate Bartholomew is a lightning bolt of energy. If you are greeted by her at one of the restaurants she owns with her husband Mykal and chef Adam D’Sylva, you are in the experienced hands of one of the city’s best. Kate and Mykal recently opened French restaurant Oter, just across the laneway from Coda, with chef Florent Gerardin at the helm. Her other restaurant Tonka isn't far away.

Broadsheet: How long have you been working in the hospitality industry and how did you get into it?
Kate Bartholomew: At the age of 14 I was over the moon to begin my first job polishing cutlery on the weekends and school holidays. I still love polishing cutlery, it’s when I plan my next move.

BS: What’s the best thing about working FOH (front of house)? And what’s the hardest?
KB: The greatest joy in my job is definitely serving the lovely, enthusiastic and interesting customers we see every day, and fortunately, they are the vast majority. The hardest aspect is dealing with the rude, entitled and arrogant individuals, thankfully they are few-and-far-between.


BS: The restaurant kitchen is known to be male-dominated. Is it a similar scenario FOH? Have you had to manage much sexism in the industry or from customers?
KB: Overall, kitchens are definitely far too male-dominated; I look forward to seeing that change. Generally, I find the floor to be well balanced in terms of gender. At times sexism does exist from both the customers and front-of-house, but I am very lucky, it is very rare for such behaviour to occur in our restaurants. Although on two occasions I have had male employees who were sexist and they were shown the door.

BS: During your time in the industry, what have been some of the biggest changes in the expectations of diners?
KB: It is amazing how willing people have become to try something different with regard to food and wine. There has been a significant development of trust in waiters and sommeliers, and rightly so. There is an expectation that we will not exploit that trust, by providing the right product, at the right price for the right individual. Conversely, the benefit of technology has allowed everyone to be more educated on the products they consume. People are more aware of sustainability, where and who the product has come from and in turn, force the industry to meet those expectations.

BS: How has technology changed the way we dine?
KB: The mighty mobile phone – sometimes I feel like I have to text some individuals to offer a glass of wine! Although it is great to be so connected and have so much information immediately available, ironically, it is also frightening how disconnected so many have become and we see it far too often in the dining room. But overall, it’s great to have international reach due to such technology, particularly social media and its ability to increase awareness of your brand.

BS: Where do you like to eat on a day off?
KB: Flower Drum, Ombra, Movida, Lau’s Family Kitchen and Ayam Chef, our local laksa place.

Read more of this series:

Sally Humble
Jane Semple
Angie Giannakodakis
Anna Touhy
Madeleine Morgan