Women Of The Food Industry – Sophia Hoffmann, Chef and Cookbook Writer and Activist
Sophia Hoffmann is the Berlin Zero Waste Chef.
Sophia Hoffmann is speaking at Food On The Edge about all things zero waste and what values belong in the kitchen. She is currently working part time in Berlin’s Isla Coffee, a circular economy establishment.
Sophia Hoffmann is not just a feminist, she is an intersectional feminist, and guys, that’s my jam. I love someone who claims the title of activist for themselves. It shows they appreciate their own value and they have a strong set of moral priorities.
I would love to see her book taken up by english language publishers, there is absolutely a market for it outside of Germany.
Reading her answers below, I hope you will find, like me, that Sophia Hoffmann screams passion and integrity.
Profile photo credit: Joseph Wolfgang Ohlert
I’m talking to women the food industry. How did your career path bring you here?
It was definitely not a direct path. I loved cooking since childhood and had my first kitchen jobs as a teenager but then throughout my twenties aspired a career as a singer, DJ and freelance journalist. Food jobs were always there, in the back of my head, but not as a career option. In my early thirties, I found myself at a crossroads. Through journalism I got into writing a food column and somehow stumbled into the kitchen more often.
Then everything kind of happened very quickly. Because I was already vegetarian/ mostly vegan at that point, culinary school was not an option anymore. I started working in restaurants again, did internships and workshops, my own supperclub series, quit nightlife, wrote three cookbooks, got involved in countless other projects and got more and more professional.
How does your career fulfill you?
It absolutely does and in a great way. And I mean not only cooking but also writing about food and using my voice to speak out for other causes. I do what I do out of absolute passion and I get so much back! From readers, customers, followers. So much love! Often I work too hard and forget to rest and to enjoy what I achieved professionally over the last eight years. I need to work on that. It’s my biggest challenge.
I like to be busy and take on many projects. I like getting shit done.
And I get nervous when I don’t have a knife in my hands for more than a few days. Cooking is an addiction. I am driven. And that can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. Meditation, yoga and cuddles help.
What are your professional ambitions? What’s next for Sophia Hoffmann?
Right now I work part time in the kitchen of Isla Coffee Berlin, a vegetarian circular economy concept place, together with 3 amazing other women and a very diverse fun team. The business is currently growing a lot and we are still learning so much. It’s tons of fun.
Meanwhile apart from doing book PR for my third book „Zero Waste Küche“ (and trying to find an English speaking publisher *twinkle), activism work and speeches, I work on the business plan for my own place that I wanna open – together with my business partner Nina in Berlin in 2020.
In your opinions, what challenges women face in the food industry?
The current structures are often not only anti-women but also anti-human. Working hours, working conditions, payment, weird military style hierarchies that I don’t believe in…
Sexism is still a big problem too. Every single woman I know that went through classic kitchen training has experiences with assault, often both verbally and physically, 100%, no exceptions.
I think that this was one of the reasons, probably unconsciously, why I didn’t choose this career after highschool. Nowadays I am in the privileged position to choose exactly which places I wanna work in which a lot of people are not. This needs to change.
My motto is: Question everything, there’s always different ways to run a business. I want my work to be fun. Which does not mean that it cannot be exhausting at times, but I wanna enjoy it still and neither create an atmosphere of fear nor stress that is unbearable and makes people sick.
Tell us of one woman in the food industry who consistently inspire you and why?
All of them. My second book „Vegan Queens“ features 10 food businesses run by 12 amazing women, I’ve cooked with most of them and they all inspire me. All the women in my network I would say. And it’s a big one. In Berlin we have the Feminist Food Club which connects women working in the industry and I made a ton of new friends through that, the group has a huge support spirit. Our website features an online list of women in the business working in Berlin – which connects to the visibility factor.
Then I would especially mention Mayoori Buchhalter. She has been a bit of a mentor for me, she founded her vegan cooking school Biogourmetclub in Cologne 20 years ago, where she had a restaurant before. What she created there is amazing and when she opens her mouth food wisdom comes out!
Also my colleague Mhairianne Macleod, who runs the kitchen at Isla Coffee. She comes up with the most simple yet tasty and amazing recipes, she is 25 and she rocks! I think she is not aware of how great she is, so I try to constantly tell her!
What do you think can be done to help raise the profile and visibility of women in the food industry?
I think we need to change the industry in itself but also the perception of which gastronomy is celebrated and seen. Mostly that is fine dining and often – at least women I know – tend to make alternative choices. Means they run a streetfood business or catering because it’s easier to do that having kids but you will never get the credibility you get with a fine dining restaurant.
Also quota is important. I know that organizations like 50Best and JamesBeard are really trying to involve more women, it’s a proactive process, it will not happen by itself, so we all need to push it. Also and especially male chef/ restaurateurs. Therefore I am really happy that Food On The Edge has quite a diverse line up with women and people of color. Because we also need to reflect on privilege – diversity is not only about a male/ female balance but a visibility of all different kinds of humans.
What was the proudest moment of your career so far?
Definitely when I was invited to cook at the James Beard House in 2018. On International Women’s Day I served a six course menu together with five other female chefs and we got standing ovations from the sold out crowd of 85 high profile guests. Not only was it the first full vegan dinner served there, also – apart from the honor of cooking there – the experience to cook with those women was just amazing. We all supported each other and it worked out super smooth even though we had first met the day before for prep. Even the JBF staff said it’s rare that such a big group of chefs work that relaxed together.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Read feminist literature to understand the mechanisms of patriachal systems and how misogyny works so you can react to it.
Don’t try to please everybody – do you. Don’t overrate outside presentation, concentrate more on your skills and knowledge.
Don’t waste time thinking about your weight or your looks.
It’s okay to be angry. And yes – you are a feminist.
What are the top skills required to do your job and why?
Both in the kitchen and also in my writing/ activism I would say „setting priorities“. Half of the time I am busy trying to figure out what is urgent and what can wait. What I can delegate and what I need to do myself.
What is a herb you think is underrated and how can it be used better?
Definitely parsley. In turkish/ arabic cuisine (which I find a lot in my neighborhood) it is used excessively, in Germany you mostly find it as a little decoration on the side of the plate. Not only is it tasty but also super nutritious and especially high on iron.
So very good for planteaters like me. It grows regionally and we should use it in huge amounts!