We Talked to Female Chefs About Being Pregnant In the Kitchen


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We Talked to Female Chefs About Being Pregnant In the Kitchen

“Days after I told my boss I was pregnant, he informed me he was unable to give me the same amount of hours. Three months later he terminated my contract.”

This story was originally published in Dutch on MUNCHIES NL.

Getting pregnant is one of the worst decisions you can make when your career is in its infancy. According to research from Human Rights College, a shocking 43 percent of mothers-to-be are confronted with discrimination from the moment they inform their employer that they have a mini-me growing in their tummy. This discrimination varies from not getting that well-deserved promotion to abruptly being fired. It's no different in professional kitchens.


Okay, being pregnant is not exactly what you'd call practical in the restaurant industry, where margins are shockingly narrow. Having a hormone bomb walking around your kitchen for a few months, then paying them for 16 weeks while they change diapers at home, followed by having your employee return to work only to have to pump milk in the storage closet to avoid leaking onto the stove, is not what you might call cost-effective. Of course, for the women themselves, it's not an easy feat either; squatting, lifting, and long periods of standing are part of everyday duties. But let's be perfectly frank: discrimination is not allowed.

As of now. there are no actual existing laws on working conditions in the food industry. The last one expired in 2014, so companies can currently create their own contracts without regards to the rights of employees (pregnant or otherwise).

I found four female cooks who got pregnant, and asked them what happened when they told their bosses, as well as the ways their pregnancy influenced their careers in the kitchen.

Photo by Rebecca Campens.

Shanna (34), branch manager at Stach
MUNCHIES: You have two kids and worked while pregnant in a restaurant. What changed when you were expecting and working in a kitchen?
Shanna: My midwife told me I needed to be careful with high temperatures close to my stomach, so I couldn't stand too close to hot equipment. I also needed to pay attention to chemicals like oven cleaner, so I always left the kitchen when they were cleaning the exhaust fans. My sense of smell and taste changed dramatically. For example, the restaurant I worked at during my first pregnancy cooked a lot with fish. I couldn't stand that smell, and frequently was close to barfing. My sense of smell was unexpectedly much better and my taste sensation improved drastically too. My cooking creations became much milder, and I often had to ask my colleagues to taste my dishes.


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How did your colleagues and boss respond?
At my first job, everyone was super sweet and understanding. I was 24 then and already worked at that place for about four months. My colleagues lifted everything for me; I was what you might call their pregnant girl. During my second pregnancy, I worked somewhere else and at this place things went quite differently. Days after I told my boss I was expecting, he informed me he was unable to give me the same amount of hours. Three months later he terminated my contract. Because there are currently no existing agreements on working conditions in the food industry you're not protected for these types of events.

And then?
I was not okay with this, but at the same time thought to myself, "Why waste energy on this?" I wanted to quietly enjoy my pregnancy. During my job search I did a one-month test run at another lunch restaurant, but after I informed them I was pregnant they told me that they realized that they didn't have space for me. I applied for unemployment and also applied for a few more jobs, but each time they saw my pregnant belly they said no right away. Each time I got a different reason.

Would you want to work in a professional kitchen again?
I did go cold turkey from the food business. Restaurants are quite discriminatory towards pregnant women and mothers. Even when I wasn't pregnant anymore, but a young mother, it was difficult to get hired while I—considering my experience—should have gotten a job quite easily. If I didn't have children, I'd most likely still be working in a professional kitchen.


Aranka (29), unemployed

MUNCHIES: What happened when you told your boss you were pregnant?
Aranka: Well, first I kept it a secret because I wanted to make a game plan. Cooking is incredibly physical and shifts are long; I was quite scared to change up my life. Luckily my boss responded well. Back then I worked as an independent contractor at a catering company and was allowed to work less. I didn't have to work 14-hour shifts anymore. They let me concoct cold dishes instead of hot ones, and frequently they had me work on small teams. My husband is a cook, and his boss was less understanding. They simply can't fathom the fact that it's difficult to be away from home for 12 hours at a time when you have a newborn. He was awarded one day of leave when I gave birth. One!

What rights do you have as a cook who's an independent contractor?
Luckily, I was working through a freelance collective. You're not covered for illness, but when you get pregnant you receive 70 percent of your wages. After eight months, I returned to work, but I didn't have a solid contract so worked on an hourly basis and with irregular shifts. That was practically impossible with a small child. Every time, I instantly had to find a babysitter.

What changed when you returned to work after you had your baby?
Because of breastfeeding, it was difficult to go back to work. For about a year, I had to bring a hand-pump to work, which I used during my shift in the staff room. That was such a hassle. Every time, I had to put the breast milk in a tray with an additional bag in the fridge. I also went out less. Prior to my pregnancy I had a work-hard-play-hard lifestyle, but in the last two years I've only been out twice.


READ MORE: We're Not 'Female Chefs,' Just Chefs

Why are you currently not working in the restaurant business?
I wanted to work during the day to give my child a more consistent schedule. Unfortunately, these types of restaurant jobs are hard to find. In addition, many companies are also more careful hiring me because I have a kid. The restaurant business is such a capitalist business model built around men. Women surely can do the physical part of the job, but they have to be willing to give up certain social roles, like motherhood. I must admit that I really missed working in a kitchen environment: the work ambiance, the colleagues, the rush. But it is what it is.

Lisa, 34, co-owner of the restaurant De Klub

MUNCHIES: What was it like being pregnant in the professional kitchen?
Lisa: Physically, it was quite intense. I had to be on my feet all day. I also made pies, and hoisted huge trays up and down the stairs while having my bun in the oven. Luckily, I have helpful colleagues with whom I run De Klub now. Eight weeks before I gave birth, I stopped working. Back then, the catering agreements on employment conditions were still standing, which was why I had more right than female cooks have now.

How did people react when you told them you were pregnant? 

My boss actually responded quite positively and was really happy for me. He even looked up what my rights were. But I was lucky to have a steady contract, which hardly happens these days.


You kept working in the restaurant business after you gave birth. Is it easy to combine a job as professional cook with motherhood? 

For me it was okay, but the big difference is that when I got pregnant I didn't have to work nights. That would have seriously complicated things. Now I do work evenings, and this happens to combine perfectly with my child's bedtime. And let's not forget the father can tend to our child at night. People tend to forget this.

Margot (40), Executive Chef-Cook at De Dikke Dries

MUNCHIES: You became a chef when you were expecting. How did that happen?
Margot: When I was 12 weeks pregnant I was promoted to be a chef. I simply couldn't say, "You guys do the hot dishes or lift these heavy things while I take a seat and take a load off." With my big belly, I stood at the griddle like everyone else. A colleague would come by every now and then and say, "Wow, what are you doing?" But I was pigheaded and wouldn't quit, so perhaps I worked longer than I should have. How did your boss react when you told him you were pregnant?
Positively! He was insured, which meant that he received a compensation for my pregnancy. Besides, he needed me since I was the chef.

When did you step back into the kitchen?
After four weeks. I clearly remember the negative vibe in the kitchen. When I started working again after I gave birth, nobody took me seriously when I told my colleagues they did something wrong. I was a woman, only worked four days a week, and I just made a comeback. That's when I quit my contract. At my current job, I'm in charge of the schedule. My partner is incredibly flexible and takes care of the kids at night. He has a busy life—sometimes I don't see my three children for three days—but they still remember my name.

You're currently an Executive Chef-Cook. Would you hire someone who's expecting?
No. It's practically illegal, but I wouldn't say that it's because of that specific reason. Not a lot needs to happen, and you have to close shop, mainly because of the small margins in our industry. If you have a few days without a decent amount of customers, you're practically bankrupt. In addition, there are presently no rules for someone getting pregnant. You have to be somewhat bonkers to get into the restaurant business if you want kids. It's not a protected profession, there are few rules, little training, and almost no information.

Header photo by Wubbo Siegers.