Fiona Mitchell
Women in WACS Profile: Fiona Mitchell

A note from Cassandra Austin –

It has been at least 2 years since I have profiled an Aussie chef and I am pleased to say I know this lady quite well after having worked for her at the Canberra Institute of Technology as a casual commercial cookery teacher.

I found her to be very supportive and a great mentor/ role model for myself and the whole industry. She supports events in the Nation’s capital and supports the Australian Culinary Federation in any way possible to assist the young and upcoming.

When you read her profile you will see that she has some good insights on women in the industry currently in Australia.

PROFILE

Name:    Fiona Mitchell

Age:     43

Position currently held:   Director, Canberra Institute of Technology Tourism and Hotel Management

Career Highlights:

Canberra and Capital Region Tourism Award 2012 – Winner for Tourism Education and Training

Tasting Australia Australian Regional Culinary Competition Best Food and Wine Matching Gold Medal 2007

Tasting Australia Australian Regional Culinary Competition Best Region Gold Medal 2005

Gold medal winner “Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges Chef of the Year, Food Service Industry Association Victoria and Tasmania July 2004

Awarded Swinburne “Most Inspirational Cookery Teacher” 2003

Awarded Travel Scholarship to Italy by Swinburne TAFE 2001 to investigate Masters in Cookery programs and their relevance to Australia

Home Town/Country:  Melbourne, Australia

 

1. What kind of formal education do you have (include apprenticeships)?

I completed a four year apprenticeship in commercial cookery through William Angliss College in Melbourne and have since completed my Certificate in Vocational Teaching at RMIT, and a Diploma in Teaching TAFE at Melbourne University.  I have also completed a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment at Swinburne University in Melbourne, and completed an Advanced Diploma in Management, an Advanced Diploma in Human Resource Management and have almost attained my Bachelor of Management at Charles Sturt University.  I am also undertaking my Masters in Gastronomic Tourism through Cordon Bleu and Southern Cross University.

2. What made you decide to enter the culinary profession?

I love being creative and travelling to other countries to experience different cultures, and a career as a chef offered me both incredible employment and travel opportunities.  I have found cookery to be a most rewarding career choice with unlimited opportunities.

3. Culinary childhood memories (e.g. who did the cooking at home? Did you watch or participate? Favorite dishes that you still occasionally prepare?)

Growing up we always had a vegetable garden, and my mother cooked everything we ate from fresh produce.  We never ate shop bought biscuits or sauces.  I remember when I was five, my mum gave me some beautiful French petit fours tins and we would make homemade jam tarts together.  Just the other night my children, aged 5 and 10 cooked ricotta gnocchi with asparagus, basil, crispy Serrano ham and Grebetto with me. It’s great that they also share my love of cooking and enjoy good food.

4. At what age did you first enter the food service industry? What was your first job?

I was seventeen when I started my first job as a first year apprentice chef at Henry’s Restaurant/HJ’s Brasserie in South Yarra, Melbourne.

5. What were important stepping stones to reach your current position?

I think education is the key to a successful career. My education, both as an apprentice and as a professional on completion of my apprenticeship, was and is, the key to finding challenging positions to further develop my skills and knowledge.  I entered many culinary competitions, and built strong networks and a professional reputation as a chef and an educator.  These were all contributing factors in leading me to the position I am in today.

6. Did you or do you have a mentor? (Who is that person? How has s/he helped you?)

I have been fortunate throughout my career to have worked for highly skilled and determined chefs, all of whom helped me to build resilience to cope with the long hours of work, skills development, culinary knowledge, and to maintain a positive work ethic. They have ensured that I always had my sights set on the future and provided opportunities to support me in maximizing my full potential.

7. What is the male/female ratio in your current job?

As a chef, the male/female ratio is about 4:1, but as an educator the ratio is more like 60/40.

8.  Describe your current work conditions (including average hours per day spent on the job; do you work weekends/holidays? do you have changing shifts?)

The hours I work are variable.  As an educator I work a nine to twelve hour day. I enjoy supporting events and student functions, and complete some work away from the office, and I am a representative member on a range of boards and committees.

9. Are you married or in a partnership?

I am married.

10. Do you have children? What age are they?

I have two children, aged 5 and 10 years.

11. Did/do you have support (from your husband, partner, family, network of friends) while you raise/d your child/ren? Describe the kind of support.

I feel extremely fortunate to have the support of my family in all aspects of daily life. We work as a team.

12. What is your advice to young women entering your specific field?

This is a very rewarding industry, with lots of opportunities to be creative and travel – food is an international language.  If you enjoy people, learning and being challenged in a team environment you will enjoy being a chef.  Education is a key factor in advancing your career, and continuous learning is a part of the journey to be the best you can in the profession.

13. What are your interests outside the culinary field?

I like to travel, and have travelled extensively throughout Australia, the United States, Mexico, Guatemala and Europe, and have worked and lived in the United Kingdom for nearly four years. I like to experience other food and wine cultures on family holidays, and I also enjoy swimming and gardening.

14. In your opinion, does the foodservice industry address problems specific to women adequately?

Attracting and retaining apprentices and qualified cooks to the industry is the greatest challenge at this time.  Industry, affiliated associations and public providers of education and training are committed to addressing the concerns and needs of industry. As a public education institution we always consult with industry on their workforce needs and on innovative ways to encourage more people into hospitality and commercial cookery careers.

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