Cooking is gender neutral. The restaurant world is not.
Male chefs tend to garner more attention than women by almost any measure, from Michelin stars though TV shows to accolades such as the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, where only five females make the cut. So who are the most admired women in gastronomy?
We asked leading chefs from around the world for their thoughts. Here are some of their favorites.
Pia León, Lima
León has won many accolades and is half of a power couple with husband Vigilio Martinez at Central restaurant. “Pia is as strong or even stronger,” says chef Ana Roš of Hiša Franko. “She is an amazing chef, mum and wife but she remains humble.” (Martinez cites her, too: “It’s not just that I love her so much but I witness her work every day, first at Central and now at her own place, Kjolle.)
Nieves Barragan, London
Spanish chef Barragan has made a splash in London with great ingredients, big flavors and authentic cooking, first at Barrafina and now at her own restaurant Sabor. Italian-born Francesco Mazzei of Sartoria is among her fans. “She is the most amazing, talented cook,” he says. “So humble. Always happy. Her food reflects her personality: It’s joyous.”
Asma Khan, London
Kolkata-born Khan has been empowering immigrant women at Darjeeling Express in London. (She recently featured in Chef’s Table.) “I admire Asma for teaching all of us that women rule the kitchen – whether they are professional chefs, or come from a non-culinary background,” says Selin Kiazim of Oklava in London. “What matters is passion and dedication, not gender and pedigree.”
Ravinder Bhogal, London
Bhogal is a Kenyan-born former journalist who shows a highly personal style of cooking at her restaurant Jikoni. She’s the pick of the British chef and food writer Romy Gill. “I have known Rav for seven years and followed her journey,” she says. “What I really like about her is that whatever she is doing, she gets on and works at it. She is a wonderful, talented person whom I admire a lot.”
Manu Buffara, Curitiba, Brazil
Buffara focuses on social and environmental issues at her restaurant Manu in her hometown in southern Brazil, where she works with the community and local producers. Her admirers include Virgilio Martinez of Central, in Lima. He says: “Her work on Brazilian nature and education is outstanding. Her approach and her understanding of food goes beyond her restaurant.”
Dominique Crenn, San Francisco
The three-Michelin star chef of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco is chosen by chefs Nieves Barragan, Kyle Connaughton, Helene Darroze, Martha Ortiz and Clare Smyth. Darroze says: “She is an amazing chef with such a personal style. I also admire her for her engagements: Protecting the environment, sustainability, and the place of women in our industry.” Ortiz says: “She is a poetess of flavors and an extraordinary woman.” Barragan says: “She’s an extremely powerful force in the industry and such a strong character. She’s a great inspiration.” Connaughton says: “She’s a visionary, a leader, and a fighter.”
Angela Hartnett, London
Hartnett is one of the best-loved chefs in the U.K., known for her no-nonsense style and her modern Italian cooking at the Michelin-starred Murano. Ravinder Bhogal of Jikoni says: “I respect her as a profoundly skilled chef. I admire her work ethic and the way she has built her group of restaurants and her career before then. She is very down to earth and kind but I am always a little starstruck.”
Ruth Rogers, LondonAmerican-born Rogers created the River Café in London in 1987 with her friend and business partner Rose Gray. It is still going strong as one of the most-revered restaurants in the U.K. It’s the pick of Daniel Humm, whose Eleven Madison Park in New York is a winner of the title of World’s Best Restaurant. He’s a fan and friend. “Ruth is so consistent and so true to her vision,” he says.
Anne-Sophie Pic, Valence, France
Pic has won many accolades, including three Michelin stars at Maison Pic in southeast France and two each for her restaurants in London and Lausanne. Clare Smyth of Core by Clare Smyth, in London, names Pic and Crenn among her favorite chefs. “They are absolutely incredible chefs at the top of their game and incredible human beings,” Smyth says. Monica Galetti of Mere, in London, is another fan: “I’ve always admired Anne-Sophie’s calm air and style of cooking. She is just amazing.”
Carme Ruscalleda, BarcelonaThe Catalan chef won three Michelin stars at Sant Pau restaurant and now is in charge at Moments in Barcelona, where she is known for innovative dishes based on the region’s cuisine. She’s the choice of another three-star chef, Elena Arzak of Arzak. “I greatly admire Carmen Ruscalleda for her whole career and for being so human,” Arzak says.
Elena Reygadas, Mexico CityThe chef behind Rosetta in Mexico City studied at the International Culinary Center in New York and worked at Locanda Locatelli in London. She’s the pick of chef Rosio Sanchez, of Sanchez, in Copenhagen. “She is so down to earth, smart, and creates super tasty food,” Sanchez says. “She’s not super-in-your-face like most chefs, she has a quiet and confident charming personality.”
Helena Puolakka, Helsinki
Finnish-born Puolakka of Savoy in Helsinki trained under some of the big beasts of European gastronomy, including Pierre Gagnaire and Gordon Ramsay, as well as Pierre Koffmann who cites her as a favorite. “She is a brilliant chef and an extraordinary woman,” he says. “She worked for me for years and used to run my restaurant. She was very bossy in the kitchen but she is a top-quality chef.”
Nadia Santini, Canneto sull’Oglio, ItalySantini combines classic French and Italian cooking at Dal Pescatore, in northern Italy. Anne-Sophie Pic describes her as a friend and inspiration, like her fellow French chef Michel Bras. “I have long felt a little lonely because of my history, being self-taught, being a woman, having to be accepted in a world more masculine than feminine,” she says. “Michel Bras, self-taught, managed to have three stars, Nadia Santini, a woman, managed to have three stars. They were real guides for me.”
Clare Smyth, London
Smyth was long the guardian of Gordon Ramsay’s three Michelin stars and now has two of her own at Core by Clare Smyth. She’s chosen by three-star chef Kyle Connaughton at SingleThread, in Healdsburg, California. “I am really inspired by her,” he says. “She’s not only cooking some of the most amazing looking food in the whole world right now with so much thoughtful intent she’s also an incredible leader and stands for so many of the values for where we should be heading as an industry.”
Helena Rizzo, São PauloRizzo owns Maní restaurant in São Paulo, where she creates modern dishes with Brazilian ingredients. She’s the choice of restaurateur (and former DJ) Layo Paskin of Palomar in London. “Brazil was my second home for over 15 years and I chose Helena because of the combination of the produce from Brazil with the techniques she has learnt made for a super exciting experience.”
Saima Thompson, LondonThompson was 29 when she was diagnosed with cancer and is known for her blog Curry and Cancer as well as for serving authentic Punjabi food with her mother Nabeela at the Masala Wala Cafe in Brockley. She’s the pick of Asma Khan of Darjeeling Express. “Saima is spending time between the restaurant and raising awareness of cancer and prejudice of cancer in the BAME community,” she says.