To become a successful female chef is a monumental challenge. Cooking remains one of the most male-dominated professions, with women making up just 18 per cent of the workforce in UK kitchens. The global picture is equally depressing. Masculinity and bravado remain par for the course in many restaurants and sexism is still sadly recognised as an industry standard.
Women often find themselves unable to progress as quickly their male counterparts and are rarely taken seriously thanks to outdated beliefs over their ability to cope with the demands of the job. After overcoming such adversity, you can guarantee that any top female chef is a seriously good cook. As it's International Women's Day, in recognition of their achievements and the outstanding quality of their cooking, here’s a collection of 11 of the greatest female chefs.
11. Niki Nakayama
Japanese haute cuisine is perhaps one of the most segregated of all cooking traditions. During the early years of her career, Niki Nakayama states that Japanese men would occasionally walk into her restaurant, see a woman at the pass, and immediately leave. In order to overcome these obstacles, Nakayama has had to constantly keep proving herself. Thanks to her determination and will-power, her restaurant n/naka is now recognised as the top Japanese restaurant in California.
10. Helene Darroze
Mentored by the legendary Alain Ducasse, Helene Darroze is living proof that gender is no barrier to exceptional cookery. Awarded two Michelin Stars after taking over from Angela Hartnett as head chef at the Connaught Hotel in London, Darroze is also known for being the inspiration for the character Colette in Pixar’s 2007 film Ratatouille.
9. Clare Smyth
A product of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant empire, Clare Smyth has worked in some of the top kitchens around the world. After becoming head chef at the celebrity chef’s flagship, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Smyth became the first female chef ever to run a kitchen with three Michelin Stars. She has since gone on to open her own signature kitchen, Core, which has been acclaimed as one of London’s top dining experiences.
8. Anne Sophie-Pic
France is a country that has its cuisine defined by tradition. Therefore, to succeed in the French fine dining scene as a female chef was, for a long time, impossible. Anne Sophie-Pic helped redefine what was possible for women when she became the fourth female chef ever to win a coveted three Michelin Stars at her restaurant Maison Pic. Today, she is rightly seen as a figurehead in French cookery.
7. Mashama Bailey
Recognised by Eater as the best restaurants in America in 2017, Mashama Bailey’s flagship The Grey offers a unique dining experience. Housed in a former Jim Crowe era bus depot, Bailey serves up Southern American food peppered with traces of her African ancestry. The result is a menu that takes ancient traditional flavours and makes them resonate with a modern American audience like nothing else in the country.
6. Angela Hartnett
After receiving a culinary education in the fires of Gordon Ramsay’s first restaurant, Angela Hartnett has gone on to establish herself as one of the pre-eminent chefs working in Britain today. Having helped launch a slew of restaurants for Ramsay and fellow celebrity chef Marcus Wareing, Hartnett has herself gone on to win a clutch of Michelin Stars as well as open a series of successful casual dining restaurants.
5. Nancy Silverton
Today acknowledged as one of the most influential figures in American baking, Nancy Silverton has earnt global recognition for her prodigious pastry skills. A former protege of Wolfgang Puck, Silverton has won several awards for both baking and her wider skill set - and has opened everything from pizzerias to fine dining institutions.
4. Dominique Crenn
A star of San Francisco’s fine dining scene, French-born chef Dominique Crenn has helped push the boundaries of modern gastronomy. Initially put off by the male-dominated kitchens in her native France, Crenn studied for a degree in economics and a masters in international business, before embarking on a culinary career culminating in the launch of her small two-Michelin Star eatery, Atelier Crenn. Named the world’s “Best Female Chef” in 2016, Crenn is an undisputed queen of global cooking.
3. Ana Roš
Taking on the responsibilities of head chef at beloved Slovenian restaurant Hiša Franko with no training and against the will of her family was always going to be an uphill struggle. However, through a combination of perseverance, creative flair and imagination, Ana Ros has fought her way to world cooking’s top table. Specialising in giving hyper-local specialties a modern technical twist, Roš’ menu is now recognised as one of the most exceptional in Europe, let alone Slovenia.
2. Elena Arzak
Consistently ranked as one of the greatest restaurants in the world, Arzak is a Spanish institution. The establishment has been run by the same family for four generations, and today Elena Arzak shares head chef responsibilities with her father. Awarded the “Best Female Chef” award in 2012, Arzak specialises in elevating staples of Basque country home cooking to stellar status.
1. Ina Garten
You don’t have to be a master of fine dining to be an exceptional cook. Host of Food Network favourite Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten has built a global following around delicious home-cooked comfort food. Now ruler of an empire that extends across stores, books and television, Garten has, perhaps more than any other living cook, highlighted how successful women can be in the kitchen.
The oppressive, conservative nature of the food industry means that any attitudinal change takes place slowly. As the stats prove, we still have a long way to go before women find themselves on a level playing field. However, as these inspirational chefs have shown, women are more than capable of matching and outperforming the men who would try to slow them down.