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Em Brightman: “I felt that because I was a female I didn't really get taken seriously”

14 Nov 2023

Em Brightman: “I felt that because I was a female I didn't really get taken seriously”

Alex Bond and Em Brightman discuss why David Beckham was Em's childhood hero, being a woman in a professional kitchen, and how important it is to keep changing the negative narrative around hospitality.

Em was appointed by Angela Hartnett as head chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Murano in 2019.

Revealing what it’s like working with Angela, Em said: "She's exactly like what you see, there's no pretence or anything like that. She is as humble and as kind and as genuine a person I've probably ever met, so I've got a lot of love and respect, and she's a great chef so passionate about what she does.”

Before taking up the position at Murano, she spent two and half years working at the restaurant as a junior sous chef after leaving Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, where she worked as a senior chef de partie, and after carrying out a series of stages in New York at three-Michelin-starred restaurants Per Se and Eleven Madison Park and two-Michelin-starred Gabriel Kreuther.

Discussing how she became a chef Em explained it was a passion that originated from helping her mum cook when she was a child.

“My mum was always like quite a good cook, so she'd always be like making stuff and I would just jump up on a chair next to her and I used to love making desserts like flapjacks,” she said.

Em added: “We used to spend quite a bit of time in France so obviously, it's such a huge food scene and then I just sort of really started working in a restaurant in Bath, which was quite casual but there was a couple of quite good chefs in there, so I followed one of them out onto the Isle of Wight, while I was there for just over a year.”


When quizzed about her food style and how it’s developed overtime, Em admitted that she has a style but one that’s had to adapt slightly to fit with Murano’s vision.

“I do have my own take on the menu but predominantly it needs to be Angeles style, so I think that would come more having my own place,” she said.

However, discussing her style in more detail, Em highlighted that she takes inspiration from Asian styles of cuisine.

“I think with mine I'm quite into the Asian aspects, like ingredients and stuff, sometimes I do sort of snipe in a couple of Japanese bits here and there, which do work. We're not like an Italian restaurant, we just have some pastas and risottos on and stuff, so I do have a bit of leeway with it,”


Talking about her experiences as a woman working in hospitality and in some of the country’s toughest kitchens Em explained how her gender affected the opportunities she was granted early in her career.

“I felt that because I was a female I didn't really get taken seriously, it would either be like we've got a pastry job, or we don't have anything. It was really difficult for me to actually get my foot in the door for my first sort of job, and one chef actually said to me, 'girls are only useful in the pastry section.' so I didn't really think I would get it,” Em revealed.

When she started working at Restaurant Gordon Ramasay Em arrived at the restaurant under Clare Smyth which marked a change in the kitchen’s make-up, but one that was still problematic.

“Clare was there, obviously another female, it was just me and her as well for a long time before any other females walked through the door, so I think that pushed me along. They made bets as well that I'd only last two weeks and stuff like that, so it was really rewarding when I stayed longer and longer,” she added.

Discussing the make up of kitchens, both Alex and Em agreed that things were improving and kitchens were becoming more balanced, thanks to the work of chefs like Em, Angela, Clare, Sally Abé and others in the industry.

Talking about what the ideal mix would look like for her, Em said: “An ideal kitchen I'd probably like 5050, I think the balance is really good, but saying that if it's all women, or it's all men, it's what you can kind of get at the moment.”

Cooking in progress...