When the World’s 50 Best Restaurants organization unveiled its 2018 rankings to much pomp and circumstance in Bilbao, Spain, it had a glaring omission. Dominique Crenn, whom the group had named the World’s Best Female Chef a few years before, had her flagship restaurant left off the list altogether. Really, though, it wasn’t that surprising. The list has long been a boy’s club at the top.
“On The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list this year, just four restaurants are overtly led by women: Hiša Franko in Slovenia, Arzak in Spain, Cosme in the U.S. and Nahm in Thailand,” the organization’s director Hélène Pietrini wrote in an open letter published today. She and her team acknowledge something has to change. Now they’re proposing a way forward for their list.
The proposal that Pietrini outlines in her letter isn’t a promise to add more women-run restaurants to the World’s 50 Best list. At least not yet. After all, there’s still a lack of funding and opportunity for women to open the prestigious restaurants that reach the upper echelons of the culinary world.
“We reflect the gastronomic world as it is, rather than as it should be,” she writes. “However, we can help foster an environment where expert female voices are heard and where female chefs are identified, valued, and invested in on an equal basis to their male counterparts.”
That means taking a critical look at the 1,040 voters that decide the list each year. Because although there aren’t as many fine dining restaurants run by women, many exceptional ones are still passed over because a voting body composed mainly of men don’t hold them in as high regard. When the Motion Picture Academy of America faced a problem with racial and gender bias in the Oscars it sought to diversify its voting membership. The World’s 50 Best is now aiming to do the same, with the goal of a 50-50 gender split in its academy. The organization will also strive for gender parity when it hosts events and organizes panel discussions about the industry.
One thing that won’t change is the Best Female Chef award, which Crenn had a biting critique of after she won it in 2016. “This award should not exist,” she told Muse. “I have never thought of my cooking in terms of my gender, and I shouldn’t be treated like some special case because I am a woman.”
Pietrini doesn’t quite see it the same way. “The World’s Best Female Chef is not an award that seeks to separate female cooking or define it as ‘other’, but provides an opportunity for successful women to be celebrated, as well as for them to address important issues including representation,” she wrote. “Once we reach a point of genuine gender parity in the restaurant sector, this series can surely be retired. But we are, unfortunately, not at that point as an industry or as a society.”