On Tuesday night, the supposedly 50 best restaurants in the world were revealed with much fanfare at an awards ceremony in Bilbao, Spain. Predictably, the list of winners favored restaurants with tasting menus few can afford. And, as usual, only a handful of the restaurants chosen are run by female chefs. (Five, to be precise.)
Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, which is helmed by the bespectacled chef Massimo Bottura, took the top prize. American winners included Eleven Madison Park, which fell from one to four, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Cosme, and Le Bernardin. Only two American restaurants on the list were located outside of New York City: Saison in San Francisco and Alinea in Chicago.
The awards themselves have generated debate over the years, with some members of the culinary industry questioning the judging process and their general utility. The late, great Anthony Bourdain, never one to mince words, was blunt: “A lot of people benefit from it, but I think most of the chefs on it know it’s bullshit.”
“Everybody is playing along because nobody wants the party to stop,” he said in an interview with The Daily Beast.
Then there’s the issue of female representation on the list, which has been woefully lacking. Last year, just three restaurants headed by women made the top 100, and Bloomberg estimated that, in general, only about 4 percent of the overall winners are female chefs. To address that, the World’s 50 Best Academy came up with a separate award specifically honoring female chefs—but in a restaurant industry that’s no longer bereft of female culinary rockstars, the isolated honor seems unnecessary, even insulting.
Northern Irish chef Clare Smyth was named the world’s best female chef this year—and openly addressed the issue when she was presented with the award at a gala dinner in Bilbao on Monday.
“We still have a real lack of women recognized at the top of the industry,” Smyth said, according to The Guardian.
“We have to do something about that, we’re not going to change it by ignoring it … to separate [male and female chefs] for me is strange, but we don’t see enough women coming through at the top.”
Smyth—whom Gordon Ramsey has said “dresses food like Picasso”—has worked in some of the most famous kitchens in the world, including French Laundry in California and Per Se in New York, and opened her own London restaurant, Core by Clare Smyth, in 2017.
Core, of course, did not make the top 100 list, let alone the top 50.
“I would love to see very soon that we don’t need gender-specific awards because women will have recognition and there will be a balance in the industry,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll see plenty of women on the 50 Best list and there won’t be a need for that award.”
San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn, which is run by Dominque Crenn, an outspoken advocate for gender equality in the culinary industry, was noticeably missing from the list of top restaurants this year, after coming in 83rd in 2017. Crenn was named Best Female Chef in 2016—but decried the award as “stupid” in an interview with The Washington Post last year.
“A chef is a chef,” she said.
On Tuesday, she appeared to protest the snub on Instagram, sharing a quote from Hollywood lawyer Nina Shaw: “I don’t need you to include me from what you excluded me from. We are not diversity we are normal. I want you to normalize your side til it looks like our side and recognize we should have been there all along.”