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We Once Again Ask Why There Is a ‘Best Female Chef’ Award

Women are people. People are chefs

Ana Roš, as captured during season two of ‘Chef’s Table’
Courtesy of Netflix

Update, March 1, 2019: The World’s 50 Best organization bestowed another demeaning award upon a talented chef earlier this week in naming Garima Arora the elit™ Vodka Asia’s Best Female Chef 2019. It went to Bee Satongun last year. Meanwhile, last year’s “World’s” best (elit™ Vodka) female chef award went to London’s Clare Smyth, whose restaurant Core failed to place on the actual 50 Best list. It seems like a good time to republish the below thoughts, which were originally published in January 2017, after Slovenian chef Ana Roš was given the Best Female Chef Award. As the industry reckons with #MeToo and restaurant awards increasingly have an eye toward inclusivity, my point stands now more than ever.

Yesterday, the folks behind the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, a listicle of (mostly) exclusive and exclusively expensive restaurants for trophy hunters, named this year’s Best Female Chef: Ana Roš, of Hiša Franko in Slovenia. Netflix-watchers who remember Roš from season two of Chef’s Table will not be surprised to learn she won this accolade.

I mean no disrespect to her when I say the award is not only absurd, it’s insulting.

As Anthony Bourdain and chef Anita Lo pointed out FOUR YEARS AGO, and as my colleague Daniela Galarza noted two years ago in regard to the sexism implied by this award, women are not curiosities. They are neither a different species nor a different category of human. They are not aliens, not mythical creatures.

Strangely enough, the “Best Female Chef” award isn't traditionally given to the woman who ranks highest on the World’s 50 Best list. It simply moves from one high-profile, high-end chef to another. Otherwise the committee would have to give it to Pia Leon (co-owner of Central with her husband, and ranked at #4) or Elena Arzak (co-owner of Arzak with her father Juan Mari, ranked at #21) every year.

If the 50 Best crew launches a “Best Male Chef” award and similarly bestows it upon a random (though talented) chef on the long list, then fine. It wouldn’t do much for those who believe gender isn’t binary, but we’d at least have equal opportunity head-scratchers. If not, they should axe the award and find a more thoughtful and meaningful way to include more women in their list. (Requiring the judges go to more female-run restaurants instead of shrugging and blaming “society on the whole” wouldn’t hurt.)

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