The women chefs who have been trailblazers in the global culinary scene
The dynamism of women knows no bounds. At this point in time, it is common to see women dominate every possible field of study, industry and sphere of human activity. Cooking certainly, is no exception.
Of course, cooking has been traditionally considered a woman’s domain. It isn’t uncommon, even now to hear “A woman’s place is in the kitchen” by the more patriarchal-minded individuals
we must live with. Often, in arranged marriage setups, a woman’s “suitability” is determined by her ability to cook and “keep house.”
And yet, when it comes to the culinary world, women have long been relegated to the sidelines, or absent entirely. The most celebrated chefs have generally been men, which is the very definition of irony (and unfairness).
Thankfully, change is afoot. Women chefs are becoming increasingly visible and hailed in the gastronomical landscape. But in case you don’t know which female chefs to discover, follow and obsess over, this article will offer a list of the most innovative ones.
Prepare to be awed.
In the history of the Michelin guide, a woman first held the most stars simultaneously – six. Her name was Eugenie Brazier, and she grew up on a farm. Her early life was stricken with poverty and rough labour, but she spoke with fond memory about the simple, hearty food she grew up eating.
For example, she was particularly fond of a soup her mother made for her while she kept an eye on the grazing pigs — a broth comprising eggs, leeks and vegetables cooked in milk and water. She poured it over stale bread, and in her posthumously published cookbook, claimed that she had “never eaten better.”
Brazier lost her mother at 10, had a child out of wedlock at 19, and lived through two world wars. Yet, she went on to open and pilot La Mère Brazier, a restaurant that started in a small grocery store and later went on to cater to the likes of French presidents, prime ministers and stars like Marlene Dietrich.
Sadly, she isn’t as well known as she should be, mostly because she was a modest woman who wasn’t a particular fan of the spotlight. However, her posthumously published cookbook La Mere Brazier: The Mother of Modern French Cooking offers a glance into the mind of this elusive icon. Finally, it seems like she might be getting the acclaim she deserves.
Read more about Mme Brazier here.
Soto-Innes is a fixture in New York’s food scene. She runs the kitchen at Cosme, an avant-garde Mexican restaurant in Manhattan, and is known for offering experimental, adventurous cuisine that still manages to be warm and hearty in homely ways.
Soto-Innes moved to the US from Mexico at 12, took her first job at 14, and by 23, was commissioned by chef and restaurateur Enrique Olvera to helm her first U.S. venture, Cosme. Here she earned a StarChefs Rising Stars award in 2015 and the James Beard Award for “Rising Star Chef” in 2016. In 2017, with Soto-Inned at the helm, Cosme found itself in the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” list.
The same year, she worked with Olvera to open a second restaurant, Atla. In 2019, she was deemed the World’s Best Female Chef at the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards. Being 28 at the time, she was the youngest person ever to have received the award.
Read more about Daniela Soto-Innes here.
Slovenian chef Ana Roš studied to be a diplomat, but fell in love with cooking when she met her husband and moved to his family’s restaurant across the Italian border. This self-taught chef found her calling at Hiša Franko, just across the Friulian border in Slovenia. She taught herself everything from scratch when she took over the kitchen, and fifteen years later, has transformed the restaurant into a globally-celebrated dining destination.
Ana is known for her unique style, which developed almost inadvertently. She was pregnant when she started cooking, and thus was not able to travel to sample the works of other chefs and restaurants. Additionally, she was situated in a remote part of Slovenia which made it hard to find suppliers. She turned to local producers, something only a few Slovenian chefs were doing at the time – which added to her creative singularity.
A few years after Ana started cooking, Hiša Franko captivated the European food scene. Her defining moment was her restaurant being featured in the 2016 edition of Chef’s Table, which made it the culinary icon it is. A year later Ana was named The World’s Best Female Chef by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and Hiša Franko currently stands as the forty-eighth best restaurant in the world.
Read more about Ana Roš here.
Thai chef Pim Techamuanvivit received her first Michelin star in 2015 in a wheelchair. It was both a professional and personal milestone, since it was a high moment in a difficult year. Chef Pim had been diagnosed with breast cancer early that year, and braved health scares and concerns to receive her much-deserved adulation.
A Bangkok native, Techamuanvivit started out as a cognitive scientist in Silicon Valley. One day, she found herself craving good Thai food in the States with no way to get it. She started cooking it for herself, and found her passion almost immediately.
Hard to believe, but Chef Pim barely knew how to boil water at that point. Yet, in 2014, she launched Kin Khao in San Francisco, which won a Michelin star the following year. Now, she splits her days between San Francisco and Bangkok when she leads the kitchen at Nahm, which was also awarded a Michelin star in 2017.
Pim joined Nahm with the intention of doubling down on Nahm’s Thai traditions by blending quintessentials Thai cuisine with her personal flavour palate and creative inclinations.
Read more about Pim Techamuanvivit here.
The list of Chef Lo’s achievements is a long read. She has, till date:-
- won a Michelin star
- been selected as the first female chef to cook at the White House for President Obama
- received a three-star rating from The New York Times for her restaurant, Annisa
- beat the illustrious Mario Batali in Iron Chef
- written a book that was rated Eater’s “Cookbook of the Year.”
A first-generation Chinese-American, Chef Lo has founded three restaurants – Annisa, Rickshaw and Bar Q. In 2001, Food & Wine magazine named her as one of ten “Best New Chefs in America.” She is undoubtedly, one of the most experienced and fascinating women in the culinary business, and continues to pursue dietary adventures that outpace each other in terms of novelty and experimentation.
French chef Hélène Darroze keeps her cooking rooted in traditions. With two Michelin stars and three restaurants, this fourth generation chef was named the World’s Best Female Chef in 2015. Three years before, she was admitted into the French Legion of Honour as a Chevalier (Knight) by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
She credits her success to her education from three generations of chefs, and her enduring respect for ancestral and regional heritage. She draws from the cuisine and hospitality in the South West of France, from Charentes to the Spanish Basque country, spanning Périgord and Toulouse and reaching the Languedoc border.
Clare Smyth is the first and only female chef to run a three Michelin star restaurant in the UK. Smyth grew up in Northern Ireland, and moved to England when she was 16. She has worked in some of the most revered kitchens in the world; in particular she served as Chef Patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay from 2012 to 2016. Smyth won the Chef of the Year award in 2013 and was assigned a perfect score in the Good Food Guide 2015.
She has also won five AA rosettes and an MBE for services to the hospitality industry, the Cateys Chef of the Year Award 2016 and Michelin Female Chef 2017. She was also the chef to cook for 200 guests at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding reception.
These seven female chefs offer a glimpse into the immense store of potential, talent and grit women have been bringing to the table (pun intended). Their food breaks boundaries, delights tongues, warms hearts, and reminds us that for women, even the sky is no longer the limit.