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).
Angie Giannakodakis first charmed guests at The Press Club and started her own thing with business partner Guy Holder at Carlton’s Epocha. The pair now also has Camberwell’s Elyros with third partner, Disa Dimitrakakis. When you’re served by Giannakodakis you’re taken on a culinary adventure through her homeland, Greece.
Broadsheet: How long have you been working in the hospitality industry? How did you get into it?
Angie Giannakodakis: I always loved restaurants, so naturally, when I was at uni I thought it [working in one] a great challenge and great money when I was young. After finishing a shipping degree I decided I loved hospitality more. It's been 27 years and I still get a lot of joy out of each day. Hospitality is something that constantly teaches you about yourself and others. It's a timeless process where, at times you might think it’s been long enough in the industry, but it really never is.
BS: What’s the best thing about working FOH? And what’s the hardest?
AG: The best thing about FOH is the access you have to so many different foods, wines and people. It enriches life with the finer things that otherwise could be difficult to attain. It's a position in which you can grow as a person and learn some very good social skills. The hardest are the times away from family ... I guess people don't realise how tricky it is to find a work-life balance in such a demanding industry.
BS: The restaurant kitchen is known to be male-dominated in most instances. Is it a similar scenario front-of-house? Have you had to manage much sexism in the industry or from customers?
AG: I can say that it has changed dramatically. When I started there were roles that were often determined by gender and now it’s more determined by skill set. Today, I find that there are more women in FOH. Management positions are usually split fairly now. I know having a family would stop me from doing what I do everyday, so women do face some obstacles that men don’t, in terms of whether they have a family. Let's face it, being in hospitality isn't a 38-hour-a-week job.
BS: During your time in the industry, what have been some of the biggest changes in diners’ expectations?
AG: I've seen lots. People used to spend more, expect more of your skill, they swore more ... they drank more. Today patrons have more choices and they are less likely to spend like their predecessors. They have a greater choice of better establishments and they know more about food than ever before.
Every diner is important and it's up to us to give value and facilitate a better dining space for them. I think restaurants tend to assume that whatever is trending they need to replicate, but I feel that in the end, all diners want, from the young to the old, is a comfortable space with good food and service that’s not too pricey. If restaurants are geared for that then it's all possible. Expectations are high but then they always have been.
BS: Where do you like to eat on a day off?
AG: I really like our restaurants Epocha and Elyros, ’cause that's why we built them, to eat great Greek food on my day off at. Otherwise it's France-Soir, Longrain, Bar Idda, Di Stasio, Northern Light, Ombra, Ling Nam.
When I do have a night off I'm always dining, supporting the people who support me.
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