Being a Food Influencer IS an Actual Job!
Career as a female chef? You must be joking. I’d rather be an influencer
Let’s start with one of the milder comments made to chef Poppy O’Toole – who has successfully traded her working professional career to her current position as a leading chef influencer.
“No-one will ever want to employ you in the your late 20’s as you’ll just get pregnant and people won’t want to pay maternity leave.”
Now for one of the more offensive occasions young Poppy had to put up with and one which has serious undertones and should elicit an immediate response of outrage:
“Sit on my lap.”
This barely-believable comment was made during an interview for a chef position.
“Let me tell you, and the entire kitchen, about an explicit dream I had about you.”
If this is just a fraction of the abuse this remarkable young chef has suffered then our chefs profession is no place for any female chef. Is it any wonder this poor girl said “no thanks” and took back her life and her dignity and went her own way?
Poppy Cooks, her online brand, now has a collective reach of 2m followers across social media – and rising. She now welcomes and works with a multitude of sponsors and brands who are only too happy to reach her network. And, get this, she’s achieved that in less than 2 years.
You might have thought the abuse would stop. It hasn’t.
Poppy said: “When I spoke up about a renowned chef who was speaking badly about me on a podcast where he referred to me as “some bird” a new round of abuse started.”
Some of the comments were: “Why can’t you take a joke?”; Feminist gobsh*te”; “Calm down little girl”; “Nothing misogynist about it. Grow up”; “Time to take your girly followers to Benidorm.”
Is this really the way the chefs profession should be treating its female contingent who, after all, are represented by a 3 star Michelin chef in Clare Smyth?
Sadly for Poppy the abuse hasn’t stopped. Here’s some more snippets from social media:
“You’ve put weight on”
“Get your teeth fixed”
“Good to see women in their natural habitat”
“This is why men are the better chefs”
“Little girl thinks she’s a chef”
“You’re a cook not a chef”
Admittedly, these last set of comments are not necessarily from other chefs and some of them are from American social media where Poppy has a large following. But, what they are, sadly, are representative of what female chefs have to suffer in certain environments even to get a foot on the ladder.
This kind of behaviour has to be stamped out and we at The Chefs’ Forum are outraged. All of us: male and female.
For the record: Poppy O’Toole is a trained chef. She did 3½ years at Purnell’s in Birmingham rising to the rank of CDP. She then moved to The Wilderness in Birmingham and rose to senior CDP. She then moved to London to work as a junior sous at JP Morgan before a spell as Junior Sous at AllBright.
She became an influencer in 2020, during lockdown, and has amassed her followers in less than 2 years.
What does this story tell us? Well, one thing jumps out immediately: a talented, ambitious, young chef gave up her career in professional kitchens. Is it any wonder?
Our own Catherine Farinha caught up with her to talk about her new job and what it has cost her to get there.
“Poppy O’Toole is an amazing example,” explained Catherine. “She gets paid by brands to work with their products. It could be scooters or Koffmann potatoes. She’s now made it all the way to TV – by working hard and not being put off by criticism.”
“When I first started I had nowhere near the following I do now and chefs in particular were quite tough on me,” Poppy said. “It was mainly the US chefs who were particularly harsh as I have quite a large following in the states. The chefs over there seemed to call me out for some reason.
“I’ve been called lazy and work-shy and they are two things that I most certainly am not. I’m like, lazy, me – Are you joking, bab?
“I became a chef because I have a love of eating, so any excuse to be near food was going to work for me. It was always in my blood and I’ve always enjoyed cooking.
“The transition from a chef, to a full time social media influencer was tricky. As a chef I felt I had no work life balance and I was working really unsociable hours.
“Far from being easier now as an influencer it is definitely harder as its constant. I can’t just switch it off for a weekend…its like a beast who keeps needing to be fed. It’s not as intense as chef life, but it is continuous, which I feel needs due credit as its always on your mind.
“In terms of industry keeping up – I feel that hospitality has come very late to the party in using social media to promote itself. I saw all manor of brands and industry sectors take to social media to raise their profile but the culinary sector was a late comer.
“It’s a fact that millennials use social media to plan everything they buy and do – I know I certainly do…I just never dreamt that it would one day become a job for me, but it definitely has!
“I have never studied marketing or business, I am largely self-taught, using lessons learnt amassing a 20k strong audience for my dog with his own account as a sort of a ‘practice run!’
“I absolutely love what I do and can’t really see myself doing anything else. My own brand Poppy Cooks has a combined audience across all social media channels of more than 2 million and I can’t honestly believe it.”
We also spoke to Bettina Campolucci Bordi, another influencer.
“She was doing plant-based on Instagram 6 years ago,” explained Catherine. “She was in first. Now she runs retreats. She has worked in hospitality and she makes good money now. She’ll post at certain times of day to maximise exposure and together with fellow influencers they all work together collaboratively to make things blow up.
Neither of those girls have been to business school – they’ve never done marketing strategy. It’s all self-taught.”
“When I first started putting pictures up on Instagram it was just to remember my recipes – to remember what I was cooking on my retreats. That’s how it started. I had been a front of house hospitality professional prior to organising wellness retreats. I’ve lived in Spain, Switzerland, and Sweden. I find working with other high-profile influencers – like Nicki Webster, @rebelrecipes and Sarah Popova, @shisodelicious – effective in augmenting my audience with a combined reach of nearly 150,000.
“With Nicki I have a podcast called ‘What the Focaccia’ where we have well known people, farmers and producers in the food industry, and we invite them to give us their views on food and sustainability.
“Sarah is a great friend of mine and our work tends to be more about cooking together in various pop-ups and greatly supports each other’s work.
“In 2018 I launched my retreat chef academy where I teach clients who want to learn more about plant-based food and recipes or for those who want to run their own retreats and cook with others on them.”