Early this morning, Asia's 50 Best — part of the World's 50 Best organization sponsored by S. Pellegrino — announced its latest award: Hong Kong-based chef Vicky Lau was named Asia's Best Female Chef.
Wait — Best Female Chef?
As if being a chef is anything like being a wrestler or a basketball player in which biology dictates each gender's strengths and weaknesses. Besides the fact that speed and accuracy are not measured in order to determine the World's 50 Best chefs, differentiating between male and female "best" in the kitchen reads like something out of a 1950s-era textbook.
Do educated, modern people actually still believe women are incapable of matching men in terms of skill, creativity, stamina, or taste? Yes, we know they do. But why?
Why—at this point in history—do we need a "Best Female Chef" special designation? As if they are curiosities? #2013 #50BestWhat?— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) April 3, 2013
Anthony Bourdain said it best the last time this happened, "Why — at this point in history — do we need a 'Best Female Chef' special designation? As if they are curiosities? #2013 #50BestWhat?" Vicky Lau is anything but curious. What's curious is why this award (still) exists.
Vicky Lau is a shoo-in for any kind of "best" distinction. She holds a B.A. from NYU, has worked as a graphic designer, and has a degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok. After culinary school, she landed a job with chef Sebastien Lepinoy at the Michelin-starred Cépage in Hong Kong. Not long after, she opened the Tate Dining Room & Bar in 2012. The restaurant earned a Michelin star under Lau's direction. Michelin awards its stars to restaurants, not chefs, thereby side stepping this thorny issue.
In a release, World's 50 Best says of Lau, "[h]er talent for visual artistry is reflected in the immaculate presentation, while her innate creativity and appreciation for gourmet cuisine is evident in the seasonal tasting menu. Inspired to create ‘Edible Stories', each of Lau's menus originate from a common theme and consist of elaborately designed dishes that stir the imagination with their rich imagery and intriguing play on flavours and textures."
Making separate spaces for women chefs isn't an uncommon method of trying to get them more recognition. Take S. Pellegrino's World 50 Best Restaurants organization: they have an award for World's Best Female chef that went to Italy's Nadia Santini this year and Spain's Elena Arzak last year. They also have Best Female Chef awards for their Latin American and Asian lists.
And yet the year Arzak won, her restaurant was (and continues to be) number eight on the World's 50 Best List. Santini, the reigning World's Best Female Chef, currently ranks number 74 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. How useful is it to declare someone the World's Best Female Chef if, according to the same organization, there are 73 restaurants that are considered better than hers?
The Tate Dining Room & Bar is not among the most recent list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants. However, Le Moût Restaurant in Taichung, Taiwan, which is run by chef Lanshu Chen ranks far above Tate, at number 24 on the list. One wonders how Ms. Chen feels about Ms. Lau's award.
In a release, Lau says she is,"honoured that the respected industry experts voting on this award appreciate and recognise my efforts."