At the same time as controversy swirls around gender representation in the restaurant industry, intensifying after Core by Clare Smyth was left off the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list — despite its head chef being named the “best female chef in the world” — a group of women have set up an initiative designed to highlight and empower often-marginalised professionals.
This month sees the launch of Women of Food, whose first step in the autumn will be to create a free-access UK female chef database for all those looking to work with chefs — from conference organisers and festival curators to investors and media.
Women of Food aims to create visibility for, and access to, a wide range of women working within the U.K. food world, in order to promote gender equality. Founded by journalist and event curator Sudi Pigott, film-maker Vérane Frédiani, event producer Vivienne Huang and French journalist Estérelle Payany, the team intend to be inclusive and intersectional.
In response to this year’s Michelin announcement, which saw new stars to 57 French restaurants, only two of which had female chefs at the helm, Frédiani and Payany compiled a list of all the female head chefs working in France. They collated 600 names, which were sent to all guides and journalists “just to prove they exist”. It was from this exercise, and various conversations the four had been having, that the idea of the U.K.-based Women of Food initiative emerged.
The founders believe that the way female chefs are covered in the media needs to change, as well as the structures that could help them to make a bigger impact. “How do you think male chefs get Michelin stars?” says Frédiani. “By having investors allowing them to lose money during the first few years, buying the best ingredients for a half empty restaurant.”
To get prizes, recognition and time to create, female chefs need investors. The issue for female chefs is not about having kids or not, it is [about] having enough investors to be able to have kids and create new dishes.
But increased investment and broader equity within the industry rely on increased visibility — and this is where Women of Food’s founders believe the database could make a real difference. They see it as a go-to for event organisers and curators. This approach has proven fruitful for Equity At The Table, a worldwide database “featuring only women/gender non-conforming individuals and focusing primarily on POC and the LGBTQ community,” founded by writer and activist Julia Turshen in the U.S.
“We want to encourage those who are more ‘conscious’ [and] we need to give [others] no excuses for not having any women, or people of different ethnicities on their list,” explains Huang. “Women of Food is all about giving confidence and exposure.”