The Eye of The Tiger

Photography by Per-Anders Jorgensen
When Tom Kerridge expressed comments at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2014, calling into question a woman’s capacity to reach the top in the kitchen, there was quite rightly immense public dispute. In a world where some of the most talented chefs are female, it seems clear that there is no disparity between the sexes when it comes to culinary talent. In an age where career paths are becoming increasingly gender neutral, surely sex doesn’t even come into it?

Lisa Lov, Sous-Chef at Christian Puglisi’s Relæ restaurant in Copenhagen proves that when it comes to the subject of girls versus boys in the kitchen, if anything, the boys should be feeling threatened. Bringing together influences from her Chinese-Cambodian heritage, Nordic flavours and the inspiration of her peers and not to mention her in-depth knowledge and passion for flavours and cultures, Lov is pioneering the gender debate and proving that girls are plainly as good as the boys, if not better, at taking on the heat of the kitchen.

When did you join Relæ? I was one of the first stagières when Relæ first opened in August 2010, and was hired several months later.

Where were you before? I worked for a short time at the 1-michelin starred restaurant in Copenhagen, AOC, under chef Ronny Emborg. Before I came to Denmark, I did stages in Australia, at Attica (Ben Shewry) and The Royal Mail (Dan Hunter).

When did you start cooking? I always had jobs in cafés making bacon and eggs and toasted sandwiches throughout university, but I started professionally cooking in 2009, at Mænam, a Thai restaurant in Vancouver, Canada, under Chef Angus An.

Who is your inspiration in the kitchen? Christian Puglisi – as a chef, leader, entrepreneur, innovator and mentor

Proudest moment in the kitchen to date? I think I am still waiting for this to happen… I think my proudest moment would be when my parents come and visit me in Denmark and eat at Relæ!

Can you tell me about the other female chefs you admire (in Denmark and elsewhere), those whom we should we be aware of right now? I had the opportunity to do a stage at Bo Lan, in Bangkok and Bo (Co-Chef and Co-Owner) really blew my mind. She is an incredibly talented chef, an outstanding leader and in general, a total bad-ass! I also have high regard for Angela Dimayuga, the Executive Chef of Mission Chinese Food, for having the courage and ambition to take on the role and make food up to the established high level and high expectations as previously set by Danny Bowien and Anthony Myint. I really admire the head baker at Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, Lori Oyamada. Seeing Lori at work and how pro she is, really, really impressed me. In Denmark, I would take my hat off for my friend and colleague, Carol Choi – the head baker/pastry chef currently running Mirabelle Bakery, and former pastry chef at Relæ…and, of course, Rosio Sanchez, the ex-pastry chef of Noma, who’s soon to open her own taqueria in Copenhagen.

In my personal opinion, however, I have never considered top female chefs as less credible than top male chefs, ever. If anything, I have an even higher regard for female chefs who have climbed the ranks, over high ranking male chefs, because they’ve had to overcome various stereotypes and social and behavioural barriers associated with the industry. I do believe that if more high achieving women chefs are recognised, other people might start to feel the same way!

Lisa Lowe1

How much influence does your Chinese-Cambodian heritage have on your cooking? I was born and raised in New Zealand and I grew up eating Chinese and South East Asian food and it wasn’t until I moved away from New Zealand when I was 20 that I realised how much influence it had on my cooking. One of the first real compliments I got in the kitchen was from Angus An and his Thai wife and partner, Kate, and it was that, even though I wasn’t so experienced in the kitchen, I  realised I was ‘a natural’ at seasoning food. From then onwards, being away from my family, I tried my best to cook the foods that I missed from home.

What is your opinion of the press attention given to Noma? Does René Redzepi influence the way you work? I am a huge fan of René and Noma. I love the restaurant and what it has done to popular gastronomy and how much it has influenced many young and aspiring cooks. I really admire what lengths René has gone to, in promoting not just good food, good people and the restaurant trade, but everything else around it – from sustainability, to research and knowledge, to community, and so on. I’ve attended almost all of the MAD* symposiums, founded by René and several of the MAD Monday sessions, and have found them hugely useful and in some cases, hugely inspiring, in regards to addressing topics and issues relevant to the way I want to work.

What is the culinary scene like in Copenhagen? I’ve been living in Copenhagen since the first year Noma became number one on the 50 Best and it’s been fun to see what came from it. Since then, there have been many restaurants opened by Noma alumni and it’s still continuing. So there’s a lot of high quality, regional, modern gourmet restaurants in Copenhagen, some of which are higher-end, like Studio, by Torsten Vildgaard, and some are more casual, like Bror, by Victor Wagman and Samuel Nutter, and I really like all the different branches that have come from that. One big thing that I think is missing from the Copenhagen food scene is high quality ethnic food, and a good variety of it. So I think it’s not only super brave, but also desperately needed, that somebody of Rosio Sanchez’s pedigree and experience is opening a taqueria in Copenhagen and I hope to see more diversity and growth in the ethnic food scene in the future.

Does a country with a female prime minister have more respect for women in the workplace in your opinion? I don’t think so. I think it can be pretty tough for women in our particular workplace, and I don’t think the reasons why it can be tough have anything directly to do with having a female Prime Minister.

When I spoke with Trine Hahnemann she talked about Danish cuisine having received a makeover in recent years and how female chefs are now considered more credible. Would you agree with this? I’m not sure, to be honest. I still see the industry as being very male dominated, particularly, in the higher positions in many of the world’s most high profile restaurants. But I truly believe that female chefs can perform as equally well as their male counterparts, but for whatever reason, there are not so many of us around! The reasons that there are less renowned female chefs might not be anything to do with this particular industry, as there are many societal and cultural factors to consider, and the fact that women are underrepresented in higher positions in other industries also supports this. In my personal opinion, however, I have never considered top female chefs as less credible than top male chefs, ever. If anything, I have an even higher regard for female chefs who have climbed the ranks, over high ranking male chefs, because they’ve had to overcome various stereotypes and social and behavioural barriers associated with the industry. I do believe that if more high achieving women chefs are recognised, other people might start to feel the same way!

What is your working day like? Haha, I don’t think I could ever answer this question because it can be very different from day to day! That’s why I love my job!

Lisa Lowe2

Where do you source food for the restaurant? Sourcing is a huge part of my job. We have many sources. Most of our fruits and vegetables are from Danish organic or biodynamic farms, such as Birkemosegård and Kiselgården. Some of our other fresh produce is supplied through a Danish organic wholesaler who gets us certain items such as the citrus that we like from Salamita in Sicily. We also have an import company, Vinikultur, who deal mostly with importing wine, but also import certain items such as organic olive oils from Sicily, as well as preserved olives and anchovies, for example. All of our meat comes from Danish organic or biodynamic farms as well, such as Hindsholm Griseri for the best pork in Denmark, and Harvervadgård for lamb. We always use local seafood; from the MSC certified Limfjord oysters, to the organically farmed trout from Bisserup. We also buy fish directly from a local fishing boat, just 10km north of Copenhagen. We work closely with a local community garden project, called Offside. Project Offside is a psychiatric social activity centre based around a café in our neighbourhood of Nørrebro, just a 5-minute bike ride from our restaurants, and an organic garden in Vadsby, approximately a 30 minute drive from Copenhagen. The nursery produces a variety of vegetables and fruits which are sold in the café, as well as in our restaurants and we work closely with the community gardener, Lars, to grow specialty vegetables available only to us!

You travel regularly? Where is the most inspiring city for food in your opinion? I love travelling because of my love for food and culture. I fell in love with Tokyo and Kyoto when I visited Japan this year, because of the endless variety of insanely good food, particularly noodles and tofu, not to mention all the amazing fermented things… and pretty much just everything! But I find most big cities – New York, Paris, London, Toronto, Melbourne, and San Francisco – inspiring for food because of the huge cultural diversity that big cities have to offer.

What is your opinion of terms for Nordic cuisine such as “New Nordic”; is this a realistic interpretation of cuisine in Copenhagen / Denmark today? My interpretation of ‘New Nordic’ is the use of local Nordic ingredients that are seasonal and presented in a pure and simplistic way. I think, in general, the current culinary scene in Copenhagen is strongly influenced by ‘New Nordic’, but also by traditional Danish cuisine (or ‘Old Nordic’, so to speak) and French cuisine. As time goes on, we start to see more restaurants having more international influences as well, such as American and British. At Relæ, Christian has always shunned and cursed the various media that called our food ‘New Nordic’ because he has never established the food that we do in that way. I think there are many aspects of the food at Relæ that are ‘New Nordic’-esque, such as the purity and seasonality, but since the beginning of Relæ, Christian has made use of, and highlighted his heritage by using citrus fruit and olive oil from Italy, and has never ruled out the use of certain exotic ingredients in the food too, like passion fruit, coconut and coffee.

Of all the Scandinavian / Nordic nations would you say Denmark is the most forward thinking in terms of cuisine? I’m not sure. I would not generalise Denmark in that way. I think it depends on the chef and the restaurant.

What is your opinion of the largely male dominated ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards’ list? Do you see things changing over the next few years? Is this something that female chefs acknowledge? I definitely acknowledge the 50 Best Awards and I like that they have an award specifically for female chefs. I see it as a type of ‘positive discrimination’ which is not necessarily a bad thing. I have always been proud of the efforts made in New Zealand, where there is a lot of this type of affirmative action in regards to policies that promote and protect the indigenous culture. It was only after leaving New Zealand that I realised how much the ‘positive discrimination’ did to the society’s attitude and awareness of the indigenous Maori people and their culture.  Having a female-specific award can bring a lot of awareness to strong successful females in the industry.

Do you see the culture changing or is it a fact that men are better equipped for the restaurant industry or is this something entirely linked to outdated traditions and perceptions that men are chefs whereas women are cooks. What is your opinion on gender representation in both haut cuisine and everyday cooking? I don’t think that men are better equipped than women for the restaurant industry. I think it is linked to the outdated traditions and perceptions about men being chefs. Traditionally, a chef’s line of work was considered a male field but I see that changing more and more.

Does your cultural heritage have a strong sense of gender identity in the kitchen? In my culture, women are predominantly the home cooks and cleaners. And the roles for women are clearly set out. My female cousins and I, at family gatherings, would always help prepare food, and wash dishes in the end. When I was younger, I was unhappily forced into it, and now I just accept it as my role in the family. The traditional gender roles are mostly adhered to, even if they are outdated.

What is next on the cards for Lisa Lov? Will you be involved in anything outside of Denmark? For me, I am working more and more on developing my own style of cooking. I am really inspired by Asian flavours and so I want to make something which incorporates my heritage and culture, but as well as what I have learned to value so highly while working at Relæ. Cooking with great attention to high quality and organic products, incorporating as much local produce as possible but also incorporating quality foreign goods, where it makes sense and working with an eye for sustainability. For the past 3 years, I have done an annual ‘Tigermom’ pop-up which has been a lot of fun for me.

*MAD Symposium is an annual event held in Copenhagen which was set up by Noma Chef René Redzepi in 2011. The symposium is a collection of chefs, academics, artists and journalists who attend and give talks relating to sustainability and ecological issues concerning the food and dining industry.

Back to Top

Get In Touch

Newsletter Sign Up