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Women in Food Ambassador series: Ana Paula Oliver, Head of Pastry on site, Restaurant Associates

Case Study

Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Paula tried her hand at the ‘business world’ before deciding, at the age of 27, to go travelling. Her first year abroad was in Brighton, as a student working part time for a little hotel at the sea front. One day, Paula was required to unexpectedly cook for a group of European tourists when the kitchen was closed and from then on she was hooked. She moved to Spain, gaining apprenticeships at Michelin star restaurants Sauc and Evo after endless “pestering” of experienced chefs. One of her head chefs was the late Santi Santamaria, a legend in Catalonia but known for being unfavourable to the idea of female chefs working in his kitchens. Paula will always remember Santi's face when he first saw her in chef's whites in his new kitchen.

Later Paula moved to London, working for other Michelin starred restaurants. The work hours were extremely hard with long shifts and no time for personal matters and she always perceived it to be very difficult for a woman to have a family with such a frenetic lifestyle. When Paula was approached to work in contract catering she jumped at the possibility and having a life on the side, allowed by the more traditional work hours and weekends off.

Paula joined Compass when her head chef joined Restaurant Associates, extending the invitation to her. She has now been at Compass for seven years, and worked under some amazing mentors including Matthew Whitby and Ian Human, a group chef, who gave Paula immense support and helped hone and develop her skills. The culmination of her hard work was when she was invited for a second time to show off her pastry skills as part of the Restaurant Associates team to enter into professional baking competition Bake Off: Crème de la Crème.

On Women in Food:

I believe women need to be made aware that there can be equality in the kitchen. Being a chef is a career choice for both men and women, and I believe the women in food scheme supports this idea and encourages more women to enter the industry. I am also extremely proud to be part of the Women in Food Ambassador Programme and I hope this encourages more women to enter the culinary industry.

On Compass Group UK & Ireland:

As soon as I joined Compass, my mentors showed me how to survive in a busy kitchen, often known as the "man's territory". They made sure I continually proved myself and gained respect from my colleague chefs. The team I currently work with are called "the family".

“I have now been with Compass for seven years, having the opportunity to work at two amazing locations. Both are amazing sites where I have been able to develop my skills and have always had the support needed from the company to move forward on my career.

Paula is part of Compass Group UK & Ireland’s Women in Food Ambassador programme which aims to support the needs of female chefs and was formed following the launch of the business’ ‘Women in Food’ initiative.

Ana Paula Oliver