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Earlier this week, chef Clare Smyth (who worked with Gordon Ramsay for over a decade) was named elit Vodka‘s (in partnership with The World’s 50 Best Restaurants) “World’s Best Female Chef“, which some critics lauded as a win for Britain (Smyth being the first British chef to be recognised as such, after already being the first British female chef “to hold and retain 3 Michelin stars“), while others lamented what they saw as the condescension of having an award specifically for females (Bourdain’s tweet below, from 2013, indicates that this has been a concern for some time already):
In the Washington Post, one journalist opined that the
““best female” awards put women in a separate category than — it’s implied — real (read: male) chefs, so offering a female-only award might just be a way for an organization to appear as if it is doing the right thing. Only three women made last year’s World’s 50 Best list. Instead of doing the work to elevate women in the industry — and, consequently, to give them a better shot in the main rankings — these groups separate the women out into their own awards as a way of overcompensating.”
The Post article also quotes Ana Roš, the Slovenian chef who won the title last year, as saying that “I had chef friends who said I should go on the stage and say I am not accepting it. I said: ‘Did you ever say no to an award?’ So here is my explanation. It is very clear for a woman in a male world, it’s always going to be difficult. A woman has so many roles — as a mother, as a wife, as a lover, as a housekeeper — and then you try to fit in 14 or 16 hours working,” suggesting that acknowledging a gender divide is indeed appropriate and necessary.
But it’s a tricky time, especially as the global restaurant industry has to work on recovering from revelations about the widespread sexual harassment that was evidently a poorly kept secret for years, with both critics and disgraced chefs and/or restaurateurs considering their next best move.
It would be ideal to affirm that measuring any chef’s standing should only come down to how welcome and well looked-after their guests feel, but it’s perhaps an unescapable reality that men and women are treated differently in the hospitality industry. And while it’s certainly possible that awards like the one Roš and Smyth have received contribute to making women “outliers” as the heads of restaurant kitchens, this and other initiatives (like a new documentary featuring only female chefs) could also help to put women in the spotlight that they deserve. Whatever the case, we have no problem simply celebrating their talents as chefs.