In what has been a dark year for the hospitality industry as a whole, a ray of light shined bright from Michelin’s UK and Ireland ceremony last night, despite the fact restaurants across the region are closed. During the virtual event, the gastronomic guide’s executive director Gwendal Poullennec announced that not one, but two restaurants had achieved Michelin’s highest honor. Not only that, both restaurants are run by female chefs—a rare achievement in an industry that has long been hostile to women.
Hélène Darroze at the Connaught and Core by Clare Smyth became the UK and Ireland’s newest Michelin three-star restaurants, joining Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Fat Duck, Sketch (The Lecture Room & Library) and Waterside Inn.
Darroze, whose London restaurant combines British ingredients with modern French sensibilities, just received her second star for her Parisian restaurant Marsan when Michelin released its French guide last week. Before the live stream of the ceremony, Poullennec surprised the chef with a jacket emblazoned with three stars and filmed her reaction. Darroze looked shocked and moved nearly to tears upon seeing her new chefs whites. She thanked her team, but she also paused to reflect on the bigger meaning of three stars.
“I’m thinking a little bit also of all the women in the kitchen and I just want to let them know that everything is possible,” Darroze said. “Just believe in what you are and live your passion as you are and be positive and everything can happen.”
For Smyth, this is not her first time running a Michelin three-star kitchen. Back when she headed up Gordon Ramsay’s flagship restaurant, she became the first female chef in the UK to hold the guide’s top honor. Eventually, she set out on her own, opening Core by Clare Smyth three years ago. She made a stunning debut in the 2019 guide, earning two stars the first year she was eligible. While Core earned its third star relatively quickly, she’s been working toward this moment for decades.
“There is nothing that is unachievable now,” Smyth said to other women in the industry, acknowledging the glass ceiling that women have long run into. “This is my passion since I was 16 years old—a restaurant that I own. I want for the future that young chefs—male, female, everyone in Britain—to have the opportunity to own their restaurant and achieve success and I think it’s such an important message.”
History was also made on the two-star level with A. Wong becoming the first Chinese restaurant in the UK to achieve Michelin’s second-highest honor.
“What we do at the restaurant as a team is try to represent China as a whole in all its multiple regional cuisines and 3,000 years of gastronomic history,” chef Andrew Wong said. “It’s massively humbling. It’s not just for my team, it is for every Chinese restaurant that has laid the ground to make this possible over the last 120 years that Chinese restaurants have been around in the UK.”
A. Wong was joined by Da Terra and Story a new two-star holders, bringing the total up to 19 across UK and Ireland. And 17 restaurants earned their first star in the 2021 guide, including Daniel Humm’s Davies and Brook inside Claridge’s Hotel.