The international awards body known as the World’s 50 Best Restaurants has today announced the winner of its second tier category: an award it calls “the world’s best female chef.” The recipient is Clare Smyth, who last summer opened Core by Clare Smyth in Notting Hill and which surely has ambitions to win multiple Michelin stars given the chef’s past. In her previous role at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, Smyth held three Michelin stars between 2007 — when she was first appointed to head chef — and 2015. She was the first female in the UK to hold the accolade.
And yet it is with a sense of déjà vu that the industry is forced to wonder why the award still exists.
After all, it is now five years since both former chef and presenter Anthony Bourdain and chef Anita Lo pointed out that the separation of world’s best chef from the world’s best female chef implicitly rendered those awarded as “curiosities.” It is something that, under the headline “We Once Again Ask Why There Is a ‘Best Female Chef’ Award,” Eater’s editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt said last year, was “not only absurd, [but] insulting.”
In 2015, Eater’s Daniela Galarza noted, in response to that year’s Asia 50 Best female award: “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?” And, as amazingly obvious as it might seem to point out, there exists no award for “best male chef.”
Bloomberg’s Richard Vines, who says that it is “mainly male” food writers who criticise the existence of the female award, today anticipated a negativity he does not appear to share, before using last year’s winner, Ana Roš of Hiša Franko, in Slovenia, who “was unimpressed” by such criticism to justify the continued existence of the award.
In a statement issued to press, William Drew, the group editor of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, said: “We are proud and excited to announce Clare Smyth as this year’s World’s Best Female Chef. Her devotion to her craft, uncompromising standards and undoubted culinary finesse are just three of the reasons why she is worthy of this award.
“Clare’s passion for the industry and her positive attitude towards equality in the kitchen similarly inspires us all. She is the perfect role model to show aspiring young chefs what can be achieved with hard work, patience, dedication and exceptional talent.”
What’s perhaps more important is where Smyth will rank on the Worlds 50 Best [female and male list] which comes out in June. Typically, the “best female chef” is not the highest ranking female on the World’s 50 Best list. Indeed, there just aren’t that many women on that list, full stop.
Smyth herself, who is the first British woman to receive it, dedicated the award to all the women working in the hospitality industry: “It’s an absolute honour to receive the World’s Best Female Chef Award, particularly as the category is voted for by my peers and international food experts.
“This accolade is not for me but for all the women working in the hospitality industry around the world. I hope to use this platform to encourage and mentor more women to achieve success.”
Maybe the World’s 50 Best could use its principal platform — the main awards — to do the same.