The Michelin guide is always ungenerous with female chefs

Despite the 3 stars given to Crenn, only 161 restaurants out of the 2990 awarded are guided by female chefs. This will be discussed in San Sebastian

19-12-2018
The female chefs with three stars, in chronologica

The female chefs with three stars, in chronological order from the top left corner, clockwise: Elena ArzakEugenie Brazier, the most famous of the “Lyonnaisemothers” over 50 years ago, Dominique CrennAnnie FeoldeAnne-Sophie PicCarme RuscalledaNadia Santini and Luisa Valazza

The third star to Dominique Crenn and her Atelier Crenn a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco – she’s French and moved to California some twenty years ago, the first woman to receive this acknowledgement in the American Michelin- reopened the timeless debate on the lack of female chefs. Please note I’m referring to chefs, not cooks. Everywhere in the world, kitchens are always full of female cooks, from private homes to canteens, trattorias and ordinary restaurants. We basically won’t find women in front of a pizzeria oven – and nobody seems to complain – and in fine dining restaurants, those judged – and eventually awarded – by the Michelin Guide. This has fed a timeless polemic.

There’s a very basic, banal reason: there are many more male chefs, leading large and powerful brigades, with a militarised hierarchy, than female chefs. So the same must necessarily apply to the awards. There are more starred men than women. But who said this should go on for ever? Of course critics are men, the big bosses at Michelin are men, but since a chef is asked to offer ideas, flavours, skill, news, culture, what have muscles got to do with it? I lost count of those who justify a male kitchen, their own, saying that “women find it hard to lift pans that are heavy even when empty, so men are better”. Except women have competed in Olympic weightlifting since 2000 in Sydney.

Quotas – pink, blue, rainbow-coloured - are too depressing… We must remove every obstacle from the professional path, without any distinction based on genre. In this sense I was intrigued by a congress, created and organised by Sasha Correa at the Basque Culinary Center. Taking place today, on December 19th, in San Sebastian, it will feature six lessons curated by Correa on the topic of “Gender and differences in the kitchen”. Quoting the programme: «The recent boom of gastronomy has led to progress that was unimaginable until now, as well as significant challenges. Among these, the necessity to apply values such as equality, equity and diversity to concrete and universal cases within this industry».

Because of this boom the number of starred female chefs is growing, though their number is still very small in proportion. The collage at the beginning of this piece shows eight female chefs awarded with three stars over the years: Elena ArzakEugenie Brazier, the most famous of the “Lyonnaise mothers” over 50 years ago, Dominique CrennAnnie FeoldeAnne-Sophie PicCarme RuscalledaNadia Santini and Luisa Valazza. They’re all French, Spanish and Italian. Of the current 128 three-starred restaurants, five are led by women: ArzakCrennFeoldePic andSantini. Then we have restaurants with two or one stars, 156 altogether, resulting in 161 in total. The number may not seem too small, unless we think that this year’s Michelin guide has awarded 2990 places worldwide. Perhaps women should be in the first row in redefining fine cuisine, without being passively subjected to the criteria of Bibendum. I’m fully aware that it’s easier said than done, but in any case it’s time for people to stop saying it’s mostly a question of weightlifting.

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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