Controversial 'Best Female Chef' Award Not Going Anywhere
For years, the World's 50 Best Restaurants list has been a source of frustration for women in the food industry, who are consistently underrepresented on the list. This frustration has not, in fact, been mitigated by the creation of a Best Female Chef award—if anything, the separate designation of "female chef" has only amplified a pervasive sense of marginalization that extends far beyond prestigious awards and into restaurant kitchens. Now, the director of World's 50 Best Hélène Pietrini announced in a blog post that the organization is attempting to address some of its biggest criticisms.
While Pietrini notes that "the majority of the team behind the lists and awards is female," she acknowledges that just four of the restaurants on the World's 50 Best List this year are led by women. (Hiša Franko in Slovenia, Arzak in Spain, Cosme in the U.S., and Nahm in Thailand.) This is not great.
"From now, 50 Best is committed to achieving a 50-50 gender balance across its 1,040-strong worldwide Academy of voters," she writes. "Prior to the next round of voting for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Academy members will also be encouraged to look beyond the current list, to explore a diverse mix of restaurants during their travels and to take issues of representation into consideration in their voting choices. With a minimum of 25% of the panel renewed every year, we have the opportunity to recruit more female experts into the voting Academy."
And then there's the matter of the Best Female Chef award, which some critics have found condescending and misguided—why can't the organization acknowledge female chefs the way they do male ones (fairly and often), instead of creating a separate prize? Pietrini acknowledges this critique, though ultimately argues that the award helps further spotlight talented women, so it can't really be a bad thing.
"The World’s Best Female Chef is not an award that seeks to separate female cooking or define it as ‘other,’ but provides an opportunity for successful women to be celebrated, as well as for them to address important issues including representation," she wrote. "50 Best’s role is to amplify their achievements and their messages to an international audience."
This year, Clare Smyth, chef and owner of Core in London, was named the world’s Best Female Chef by the organization. She told Bloomberg that the award was not for her, "but for all the women working in the hospitality industry around the world,” and added that she looks forward to the day "these awards will no longer be needed” because women will be equally represented in the industry.