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21 April 2020

“Women pastry chefs can have the same opportunities as men, but they have to fight more"

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One of the head pastry chefs at L'Atelier Barcelona encourages young students to enter the trade with strength and determination.

Ester Roelas, one of the head pastry chefs at L'Atelier Barcelona 

Ester Roelas grew up helping in the Pastisseria Forn Reig bakery her aunt and uncle owned in Coll de Nargó near Lleida. In 2003, at the age of 16, she began to study hospitality at the Hofmann School. After working as a chef for ten years, she decided to study pastry making at Hofmann, where she later taught.

A confirmed chocaholic and enthusiastic teacher, she enjoys experimenting with classics like the Sachertorte and has been part of the teaching team of Ricardo Vélez's The Patissier.

She currently works on the pastry section at L’Atelier Barcelona with her mentor Eric Ortuño. She is also making a foray into online training and publishing ebooks for pastry fans.

On the challenges that women face in this sector, Roelas believes that gradual progress is being made, but we must continue fighting to get the same opportunities as men.

 1.- How has the role of pastry evolved over the last ten years? 

 I think that it has come a long way in recent years. Before, the role of pastry was insignificant, especially in restaurants, it is what was least important, when actually it's the impression you leave with when you eat out. The truth is that a lot of progress has been made in this regard. There are more and more highly qualified professionals making high-quality desserts in restaurants. 

Also, as far as recipes go, I have noticed a tendency to reduce sugar and fat, making pastries lighter. 

Luckily, there are now many nationwide initiatives in the sector that are causing the profession to boom, such as the Dulcypas Award for Best Tea Biscuit, the Best Croissant Contest, the Best Panettone... all these activities help to pastry to evolve, because they motivate professionals to strive each day to deliver a better product.

 2.- What are the challenges facing women in the sector?

Women have to try harder, they have more to prove. Sometimes just being a woman means you have many barriers to deal with, not always, but often, although it should not be this way.

3.- Do you think there is a scant presence of women at pastry congresses and events? What actions could be taken to combat the invisibility of women?

The truth is that things are improving all the time, since there is a greater presence of women at congresses and events. 2019 was the first year in which a woman, Saray Ruiz, won the Lluís Santa Pau Trophy for the Best Chocolatier in Spain. Thanks to women like her, progress is being made, and it is gradually becoming easier to get into certain events and competitions. I think we are on the right track, but we must continue fighting.

4.- Do you think women have the same opportunities (salaries, positions of responsibility, recognition, etc.) as men in this sector? Is there a solution?

Women can eventually have the same opportunities, but they have to fight more, they have to keep fighting. Only with strength and decisiveness will they make it to the same point as a man. As I said before, you have to really prove yourself and things start opening up to you.

5.- Is it difficult for a woman to reconcile her personal and professional life in pastry making?

I think it's the same anywhere. I have no children or partner, but it all depends on your personal or family situation.

6.- Have you experienced any discriminatory situations in your profession because you are a woman?

I have been fortunate to work with people who are strongly committed to women. It is true that I have sometimes had to prove myself to win over their trust, but fortunately I have met bosses of both genders who have believed in me. All this should not be a matter of gender, but of people.

7.- What recommendations would you give to female students who want to go into pastry making?

I would tell them to go into it with humility and a desire to learn, but above all with strength and decisiveness, to visualise what they want and to fight for it, without listening to what other people may say. Pastry is passion, and passion can overcome anything.