Visible Women

These 5 women have been named the best female chefs on the planet

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Moya Crockett
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But why is the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants so heavily dominated by white men? 

The votes are in, and the list of the world’s 50 best restaurants is out. The annual rankings –the results of which are announced every summer – were unveiled on 19 June at a ritzy awards ceremony in the Spanish city of Bilbao, and feature restaurants from across Europe, the US, Asia and South America.

Even a fleeting glance at the list, which is compiled based on the votes of over 1,000 food writers and critics, chefs, restaurateurs and “well-travelled gourmets” from around the globe, indicates that white men still very much dominate the upper echelons of the restaurant industry. There are no black faces on the list and only a handful of chefs from Asia. And just four female chefs had their restaurant named among the world’s top 50 – a paltry figure that is given a slight boost by the addition of a separate, standalone ‘Best Female Chef’ award for Clare Smyth.

It’s possible to do two things here, I think: celebrate the achievements of the women who did make it onto the list, while questioning how it can be that so few female chefs were considered worthy of inclusion in 2018. 

Men still dominate the restaurant industry

There’s no doubt that many women working in kitchens wish their gender wasn’t even a subject of discussion; that they desperately want to be allowed to crack on and just, you know, be chefs. (Smyth, who is the only UK woman with three Michelin stars, currently heads up the divine Core in Notting Hill and recently catered the royal wedding, said as much as she accepted her gong.) But for as long as these influential awards are so monopolised by one kind of chef, it’s important that we keep voicing our displeasure.

Speaking at the ceremony in Bilbao, Smyth offered her take on how the world’s most exclusive and well-regarded restaurants could become more diverse.

“We all must encourage people from all backgrounds to achieve success,” she said. “We must be more supportive, tolerant, understanding, kind. We must make a conscious effort to remove barriers and support a healthy gender balance to make a more workplace for both men and women.”

Hear, hear. Find out more about Smyth below – as well as the four other brilliant chefs whose restaurants were named among the best in the world.  

Clare Smyth 

Born in Country Antrim, Smyth left home at 16 to follow her dream of becoming a professional chef. Eight years later, Gordon Ramsay hired her to work at the three Michelin-starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. She eventually worked for the famously ill-tempered chef for more than 13 years, working her way up to the title of head chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsey aged just 28 and becoming chef-patron in 2012. A year later, she was appointed MBE for services to the hospitality industry.

Over the years, Smyth has also done stints at illustrious restaurants including The French Laundry in Napa Valley, Pe Se in New York and Alain Ducasse’s Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo. She opened Core in July 2017 to rave reviews, and last month catered for 200 guests at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding reception.

Key quote: “I would love to see very soon that we don’t need gender-specific awards because women will have recognition and there will be a balance in the industry.”

Daniela Soto-Innes  

Soto-Innes is a young trailblazer. Aged 12, her family moved to the US from Mexico City, and she started working in restaurants at just 14. After attending the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Austin, Texas, she relocated to New York City at 23, where she joined Cosme – a high-end contemporary Mexican restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron District – as opening chef de cuisine.

She once said that she spent the first three months of the job pretending to be older than she was, but she’s since proven that she can more than hold her own among her older male colleagues. In 2016 she received the prestigious James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef in 2016, and in 2017 Cosme was named one of the world’s 50 best restaurants with Soto-Innes at the helm.

This year, Cosme came in at number 25 in the world’s best restaurant rankings – the highest placement for a restaurant run by a female chef.

Key quote: “I know what I’m capable of, not in terms of age but with the experience I’ve been through. The way I manage is, I get them to focus not on how young I am but how much I’ve learned and how much I can give to them.”

Elena Arzak

Like Smyth and Soto-Innes, Arzak got started in the food business early. Her family’s eponymous restaurant in the Spanish city of San Sebastián, Arzak, was originally opened as a wine inn and tavern by her great-grandparents in the late 19th century. She started helping in the restaurant from the age of 11, and is now joint head chef alongside her father, Juan Mari.

Arzak, which is known for its innovative approach to traditional Basque cooking, has three Michelin stars and came 31st in this year’s list of the world’s 50 best restaurants. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Elena Arzak has never left San Sebastián: before committing to the family firm, she trained and worked at Le Gavroche in London, La Maison Troisgros in the French town of Roane, Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo, Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire in Paris and elBulli in Catalonia.

In 2012, she won the award for World’s Best Female Chef.

Key quote: “Our signature cuisine is Basque… Our taste is from here. We were born here. Since childhood we have in our minds a flavour: parsley, squid, hake throats. Even if we use herrings or dill, we cook unconsciously with this identity.”

Ana Roš 

Unlike many of the other women on this list, Ana Roš didn’t always dream of a professional cooking career. As a child in Slovenia she trained as an alpine skier, before studying diplomacy in Italy. It was at university that she met her partner Valter Kramar, whose parents – as luck would have it – were about to retire from running Hiša Franko, their restaurant in the Slovenian town of Kobarid.

Valter and Roš decided to take over Hiša Franko, and she gradually climbed the ranks from waitress to head chef. The restaurant always specialised in traditional Slovenian cuisine, and Ana has made her name by giving these a modern spin – serving up dishes like asparagus and nutmeg ravioli, octopus cooked in lamb fat and pickled sardines with shallot jam.

In 2017, Roš was named the world’s best female chef – and this year, Hiša Franko is rated as the world’s 48th best restaurant. Not bad for someone who taught themselves to cook.

Key quote: “As a child, I had visions of being the ambassador in Tanzania, sipping my cocktails by the swimming pool. So when [being a chef is] really hard, I sometimes think that would be the easier option.”

Pim Techamuanvivit 

Pim Techamuanvivit’s restaurant, Namh in Bangkok, came in at number 49 in this year’s list of the world’s 50 best restaurants. She also helms the Michelin-starred restaurant Kin Khao in San Francisco, where she lives, and hopes to open another fine dining Thai restaurant in San Francisco named Nari – the Thai word for woman.

Before committing to cooking as a profession, Techamuanvivit worked as a food blogger, author and jam maker. Born and raised in Bangkok, she learned to cook from friends and relatives – particularly her mother’s two elder sisters, who learned from her grandmother.

Key quote: “Thai cuisine has always been in the hands of Thai women. It never, ever left us.”

Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is dedicated to raising awareness of women who’ve made a difference, celebrating their success, and empowering future generations to follow their lead. See more from Visible Women here.  

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