‘I knew that if I was a man maybe I would have been getting paid a little bit more,’ Pizzeria Sirenetta executive chef Camille Rodriguez tells Moneyish.
This female pizza chef found a way to make more dough.
Camille Rodriguez, an executive chef at Pizzeria Sirenetta in New York City, worked her way up in the culinary industry from salad prep and line cook to calling the shots and managing a team of 15. And she wasn’t afraid to ask for a raise when she knew she deserved one.
“The first time I had to negotiate a salary was the first job I took as an executive chef. I felt like (their offer) was on the low side, and I knew that if I was a man maybe I would have been getting paid a little bit more, so I definitely had to fight for the salary that I thought I should be getting,” Rodriguez told Moneyish at the rustic Italian Upper West Side eatery.
“It was kind of like reading my resume again to this person,” she added. “Like, ‘I’ve come from these restaurants, I’ve been cooking for this amount of time, I’m going to be doing X, Y and Z for you, so I think I deserve a little bit more than what you’re willing to offer.’”
Women represent about 19% of chefs and less than 7% of head chefs, according to Bloomberg. Rodriguez is one of them — and she’s worked her way up the food chain to get there, earning respect and demanding it in return.
The 37-year-old New Jersey native cut her teeth in culinary at Bobby Flay’s now-shuttered Mesa Grill in Flatiron, where she prepared cold foods during lunch before moving on to the more hectic dinner service. She went on to work the grill and saute stations at a handful of other nouveau American restaurants around New York City, and eventually learned how to make pizza from a former chef at Franny’s in Brooklyn.
“It was a huge eye opener because there wasn’t a lot of females around,” she said of her early career days. “You just had to kind of prove yourself even more.”
The industry is also physically demanding, Rodriguez added. “That always comes into play — whether she can physically carry a box of potatoes or something, or is she just going to ask for help. You need to prove yourself 10 times more than a guy,” she said. “Nobody outright said that you can’t do it, but it was like, ‘We’ll put her there and see if she’s going to sink or swim.’”
At Pizzeria Sirenetta, her day-to-day consists of working with local farmers to find seasonal ingredients for specials and jumping behind the line to serve up pizzas topped with ingredients like buffalo mozzarella, fennel sausage or clams and parsley and cooked in a wood-fired oven, or pasta dishes like linguini with meyer lemon and ricotta.
Being in charge of a team also comes with the responsibility to make sure employees are being treated fairly and respectfully behind the line, Rodriguez said.
“Creating an environment that you want to work in, and that other people want to work in, is really important when you’re running a kitchen,” she said. “You’re the one who gets to set the tone, and you’re the one who gets to establish your standards, and so that’s been really rewarding.”
More than 170,000 claims were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 1995 and 2016, and of those, 83% came from women and just over 10,000 were filed by restaurant employees. Rodriguez says she wasn’t surprised by the allegations against prominent male chefs accused of sexual harassment, and while she thankfully doesn’t have any horror stories of her own, she has made it a priority to create a safe work zone for her employees.
“I would never tolerate any employee feeling unsafe,” Rodriguez said. “If someone came to me and said they have an issue with whatever or whoever, we’d definitely nip that in the bud and take care of it, because the most important thing for us is that our employees feel like they can feel safe.”
The pizza and pasta aficionado has dreams of owning her own restaurant one day, and says it’s important that women get the funding they need so that the industry can see greater representation of female chefs. But the odds are still against her, considering women business owners receive nearly 50% less in funding than their male counterparts. Last year, the average funded business loan for women-owned enterprises was $57,097, down from more than $99,000 in 2016, according to Biz2Credit’s annual State of Women-Owned Small Business Finance Study. The average loan a male received for a business in 2016, in contrast, was $103,604.
“When we’re able to run more restaurants, we’ll be able to create environments that are not such a patriarchy,” Rodriguez says. “It’s important for women to get financial backing to be able to do their projects, so they can create environments where we’re not going to feel like we’re getting harassed when we come to work.”
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