Header images, left to right: Ana Roš, World's Best Female Chef 2017; Dominique Crenn, 2016; Hélène Darroze, 2015; Helena Rizzo, 2014
We live in a sexist world. Society as a whole may have travelled a fair way down the long and sometimes tortuous road towards gender equality – with different countries and cultures currently at varying points in that journey – but we cannot claim with any conviction that we have reached the desired destination.
Earlier this week, the Slovenian chef-restaurateur Ana Roš was named The World’s Best Female Chef 2017, following in the footsteps of other notable title-holders including Dominique Crenn, Elena Arzak and Anne-Sophie Pic.
Some believe the existence of the Best Female Chef Award programme – under The World’s 50 Best Restaurants umbrella – fuels and exacerbates everyday sexism. As the organisers of these awards, we strongly refute that. We believe the existence of this gender-specific category actually helps to redress an imbalance, while simultaneously recognising that the world of restaurant kitchens remains a male-dominated sphere.
These awards, which extend to include Asia's Best Female Chef and Latin America's Best Female Chef each year, shine a light on supremely talented female chefs with the aim of inspiring future generations of young women to reach for the heights of their chosen profession. 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.
Glass ceilings may have been cracked, and a few broken, but none have been dismantled entirely. Through history, a degree of affirmative action has proved not only necessary but also effective in driving change.
Margarita Fores (Asia's Best Female Chef 2016) with Dominique Crenn (The World's Best Female Chef 2016) and Elena Arzak (The World's Best Female Chef 2012)
Roš, along with the likes of Crenn, May Chow in Hong Kong (Asia’s Best Female Chef 2017) and Kamilla Seidler in Bolivia (Latin America’s Best Female Chef 2016), aim to use the platform that this award provides positively. Between them and their fellow female winners, they are campaigning to attract more women to the industry, to improve traditionally anti-social working conditions and poor wages, to address work-life imbalance, to drive changes in food production methods and the treatment of farmers, to promote LGBT rights, to provide opportunities for the under-privileged, and to celebrate their respective localities.
They would surely be doing all these things without having won a single award – indeed, their actions have no doubt influenced the global panel of judges who vote to select each winner – but The World’s 50 Best Restaurants can inject much-needed publicity into these causes and significantly amplify international attention.
Ana Roš has certainly thought deeply about the existence of this award and – like many other recipients before her – considered whether to accept it and why. Her conclusion is that if used intelligently, the accolade is good for her restaurant, her region, her industry and, in the long term, her gender.
One day, we hope the existence of The Best Female Chef Award becomes obsolete. As things stand, such a scenario remains some way off. Let’s collectively work to change that – and celebrate brilliant female chefs as part of the process.