Should there be separate awards for female chefs?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th April 2018

With the Michelin Guide and The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants giving out awards for Best Female Chef – we take a look at the gender gap in the industry and ask: should there be separate awards for female chefs?

In 2017, the Office of National Statistics reported that of 250, 000 professional chefs in the UK, only 18.5% are female. While equality in the kitchen is a hot topic of discussion, some have criticised the ‘Best Female Chef’ awards for perpetuating a separation based on gender.

UK chefs like Angela Hartnett, Lisa Goodwin-Allen and Monica Galetti have become notable names in the industry, not just for the success of their restaurants, but also mentoring on much-loved television competitions like Great British Menu and MasterChef: The Professionals.

Dominique Crenn, Best Female Chef Award
Dominique Crenn
Credit: The World's 50 Best

This topic of gender disparity is not a new one. In an article for Munchies in 2014, two Michelin starred chef Dominique Crenn remarked:

“Don't get me wrong: I want to help pave the way to make things better for female chefs in our industry—and for all chefs in general—but I worry that I will always be seen as a female chef first, and a chef second. It's a corner I am forever stuck in.”

The World's 50 Best Dominique Crenn 

Dominique was later awarded the ‘Best Female Chef Award’ by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016. But does this kind of gender-specific award do more harm than good?

In a statement on their website in January 2017, The World’s 50 Best defended the award, explaining that the purpose is to shine the spotlight on successful female chefs in the industry, raising their profiles and acknowledging their achievements.

Group Editor William Drew wrote:
“It is not an award that seeks to separate female cooking or define it as ‘other’, but it tacitly acknowledges the undeniable truth: that for many women, making it to the very top is frequently tougher, and often involves greater sacrifice, than for their male counterparts.”

On our Facebook page, this topic has been discussed many times, with our followers taking both sides of the debate. Back in 2016, Nick Hemingway commented: "I really don't understand why we are differentiating by saying top female chef..."

Clare Smyth MBE, Michelin Best Female Chef Award, Core by Clare Smyth,
Clare Smyth MBE

Michelin Female Chef Award Clare Smyth

Michelin first launched their Female Chef Award at the UK and Ireland ceremony in 2017. It was presented to Clare Smyth MBE, who was the first female British chef to hold and retain three Michelin stars at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Clare has since opened her own restaurant, Core by Clare Smyth in Notting Hill.

“We should never allow that to stand in our way. In a kitchen, there is no difference between the sexes,” she told the Huffington Post in an interview in 2017.

Many Twitter users were not impressed by the introduction of the award. Restaurant critic Lesley Chesterman called it 'patronising bullshit':

Clare was subsequently named as the elit® Vodka World’s Best Female Chef in the world’s 50 best restaurants 2018 where she said  “It’s an absolute honour to receive the elit® Vodka World’s Best Female Chef Award, particularly as the category is voted for by my peers and international food experts. This accolade is not for me but for all the women working in the hospitality industry around the world. I hope to use this platform to encourage and mentor more women to achieve success.

Chef Fanny Rey

In France, chef Fanny Rey recieved the award in February 2017, and she was quick to defend it. At a dinner with her peers, Food & Wine magazine reported that the chef spoke highly of Michelin and the recognition it had awarded her and her team. Fanny said: “This award proves that cooking isn’t just a man’s game,”

She added: “Enough with the debating, we should all be focusing on what’s most important: the food and making our clients happy.”

Fanny is not the only French female chef to have been noted by the Michelin inspectors. Anne-Sophie Pic and Hélene Darroze possess multiple Michelin stars between them, and interestingly, both have also previously won the World's Best Female Chef Award. 

Female chefs and competitions

Yet despite these distinctions made by awarding bodies and the evident success of women across the industry, there still appears to be fewer female chefs in the spotlight. There has not been a female Roux Scholar since Mercy Fenton, the only woman to win the competition, back in 1994. Speaking to The Staff Canteen earlier this year about the competition, Alain Roux said:

“Unfortunately there are statistically fewer women in the industry and as a result, there has always been a much lower number of female applicants than male. With less than 10% of the total number applying on average it follows that there are fewer women who get through to compete.”

Whilst there is no denying that there are successful women gaining recognition in the industry, many disagree with Best Female Chef awards.

What do you think? Are ‘Best Female Chef’ awards doing enough to raise the profile of women in the industry? Should there be separate awards based on gender?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

By Jenna Lloyd

@canteenjenna

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 26th April 2018

Should there be separate awards for female chefs?