Interview with Stosie Madi Chef Patron at The Parkers Arms
Celebrating winning a place in the Estrella National Restaurant Awards Top 100 and being the only woman in the north of England to win, our co-founder, Janie, chatted to Chef Patron, Stosie Madi from The Parkers Arms about what that feels like. Stosie shared her inspirations, style of cooking, passions, what it’s like to run a business and her views on issues facing women in the food industry.
You’ve just won a place in the Estrella National Restaurant Awards Top 100 and you were the only woman in the north to win, how did that make you feel?
I was delighted for everyone at The Parkers Arms that we made the top 50 and as soon as I realised I was the only woman I was quite surprised. I suppose the truth is there are not many female chefs that own and run establishments. We need more women to come into the industry.
Could you tell us a little about your background and how you got into cooking in the first place?
I grew up around hospitality. My mother is French, my father British, both have Lebanese origins and I was brought up in West Africa where my parents owned hospitality businesses. Food and cooking was very much part of our culture. Sitting down and breaking bread together. There wasn’t a day when my mum and grandmother weren’t cooking. I have always wanted to cook, my mother is probably the best cook in the world but I would say that wouldn’t I? She has always inspired me. She was very worried about how I would balance a family life with my work when I decided to start cheffing, but it did not deter her from encouraging me.
I have a daughter who works in hospitality and I worry about her. The thing is a woman should be able to go into this industry, if she feels it is her destiny and be supported to have it all. The job, the children and a family life. I stepped in to run our family business, when my Dad died when I was 19 then I set on my own path and opened my first restaurant at 23. The Parker’s Arms is my 5th successful restaurant with my business partner and co-founder Mrs. Kathy Smith
WiFi hosted an event about sustainability last week do you think women have an instinctive attitude to sustainability?
Absolutely. What is important to us running our own business is that nothing goes to waste, absolutely nothing.
What do you enjoy most about working at The Parker’s Arms and what’s your style of cooking?
As women, when we bought the The Parker’s Arms, we wanted a place where we could connect with nature. We have funded this business ourselves and we wanted it to be somewhere where we could build relationships with local producers and the countryside. My inspiration is about what is on my doorstep – what is available here and now. It’s essential to keep costs down as well but to really bolster quality and never ever compromise on the food. My style of cooking is eclectic and combines everything I grew up with and whilst it is fearlessly rooted in French technique, which is how my mother cooked, I am self-taught. I love reinventing my old family recipes using Lancashire ingredients to create something simple and delicious, like a pie, for example, but it will be an extraordinary pie. So, my style is French but very much ‘terrior’, rooted in seasonality and my culture.
What are the challenges you face running a restaurant business?
Unrealistic expectations from customers, rising costs, skills shortages, in short a lot. People also have the expectations that they should be paying the same prices they paid 20 years ago, especially in a rural location. We are a destination venue and have very little passing trade so little things such as a hike in fuel can slow our business down.
What are the pressing issues facing women in the food industry today and what should we do about them?
Women are grossly under-represented at large in the industry. This is an ongoing problem, which I think will change with time. The younger generation in our industry, I feel, are much more open to gender balance. What we need urgently now is the media such as food publications, TV, trade bodies, trade publications, to talk to women working in kitchens, not just high end and feature their talent in their publications or on TV shows. It is not often you see a chef on TV that is a household name and an industry success, that is a woman. Mostly the same male chefs appear time and time again in the media. We have very few, Angela Hartnett being one of them, but she’s at the high end of the industry and this can be daunting for women wanting to get into the industry.
I believe accessible role models are the way forward and I feel that it is the responsibility of key players who have the power to help make a change. Women should be showcased because of their talent not because of their gender. If they’re a success let’s see them. Let’s inspire young women to join the industry and bring attention to their successes. Many women in the food industry work underground, quietly and diligently. Why can’t women achieve the rock stardom fame that male chefs seem to get. All talent is wonderful. But let’s share it out. If the media gave more attention to women in food then that would change things dramatically.
Do you have a particular favourite dish on the current menu?
Peas and broad beans are everywhere at this time of year and are delicious. We cook on charcoal a lot so I throw a handful of peas on the charcoal and lightly grill them then a handful of clams and dress them with our own homemade elderflower vinegar. Divine!
Have you got any future plans, can you tell us more?
We have a couple of new projects in the pipeline so watch this space!
If you were marooned on a desert island, what one ingredient could you not live without and what dish would you feel you could live on?
Eggs of any kind. If it is an egg I can do anything to it. Any dish with eggs in. And most everything on the island will have eggs.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
Make a plan, stay focused, follow the plan. It is not about being a woman, but being the best you can be and never ever give in unless you know for certain it is a dead end, in which case stop and start again, nothing wrong in admitting something did not work out. On the contrary notch it up as experience. Always have an older saner friend or mentor who is in it with you, who can pick you up and nudge you forward when you are down.
You can find Stosie Madi on Instagram @theparkersarms & Facebook @theparkersarms and on Twitter as @parkersarms. You can listen to our brand new podcast with Stosie Madi here. Thanks to our friend James Haywood of OpenKitchen for putting our podcast together.