Are now turn­ing ta­bles

They are all top chefs, lead­ers in their field - and they hap­pen to be women. ME­GAN MILLER speaks to these four global sen­sa­tions who have blazed a trail in the tra­di­tion­ally male-dom­i­nated food in­dus­try

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASSIE LIVING -

IN COL­LECT­ING her Best Fe­male Chef award at the World’s 50 Best Restau­rants cer­e­mony in Mel­bourne ear­lier this month, it was fit­ting that Slove­nian chef Ana Ros ded­i­cated the win to her two chil­dren. “Ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble,” she said tri­umphantly. “This is the best mes­sage of them all.”

A one-time ski cham­pion, Ros was on her way to a ca­reer as a diplo­mat when chef­dom found her. In 2000, her hus­band in­her­ited his par­ents’ restau­rant, Hisa Franko, in the re­mote village of Ko­barid. So, with no for­mal training, Ros took over the kitchen. At the same time she was rais­ing two young chil­dren. With­out fi­nan­cial back­ers, the fam­ily was count­ing on her abil­ity to jug­gle ca­reer and moth­er­hood.

This year, Ros’s 50-seater de­buted at No. 69 on the starry list, which ac­tu­ally spans 100 restau­rants. You feel the ac­co­lades may have rolled in sooner had she not turned down trips and chef tours to be with her fam­ily. She still grap­ples with the “bad conscience” of be­ing pulled be­tween home life and 18-hour days in the kitchen.

“We [fe­male chefs] fin­ish our work and we don’t go have a beer,” she says. “We go home,check our chil­dren are asleep, maybe do some wash­ing and cook a fam­ily meal.

“My hours are 24 in a day – not one more.This is why these awards are a good plat­form to speak about that, not to shout for eman­ci­pa­tion be­cause it is not pos­si­ble.”

While de­bate still rages about the very ex­is­tence of the Best Fe­male Chef award (pa­tro­n­is­ing, fool­ish, in­sult­ing and to­kenis­tic are some of the barbs lev­elled at it since its in­cep­tion seven years ago), Ros is us­ing it to put her coun­try on the map and high­light the need for women in elite-level roles.

“If you look at the per­cent­age of men to women in the kitchen, of course, it is in big favour of men be­cause of the na­ture of the work – it’s dif­fi­cult, a lot of hours, a lot of time and women can­not af­ford that. We are wives, we are moth­ers, we have an­other life. Even phys­i­cally it is dif­fi­cult,” she ex­plains.

Do­minique Crenn, the French-born chef be­hind San Fran­cisco’s Atelier Crenn, has long been at the de­bate’s coal­face. Crenn is un­afraid to lend her voice to top­ics close to her heart – in­clud­ing what it means to be a lead­ing woman in a male-dom­i­nant field.

When she won Best Fe­male Chef last year she con­sid­ered re­ject­ing the ti­tle, but ac­cepted it and de­clared: “I hope that award won’t ex­ist in two years.”

“It’s 2017 and we still have to talk about this? It’s crazy,” she says. “The award is a plat­form for di­a­logue and con­ver­sa­tion, which is al­ways nice, but noth­ing’s hap­pen­ing very fast.

“Peo­ple some­times have a hard time see­ing a woman in charge. It’s so weird. Guess what? We are in charge and we have been for a long time.”

Crenn is a long­time fan of Julia Gil­lard, de­scrib­ing the for­mer PM’s now-fa­mous 2012 misog­yny speech to par­lia­ment as “won­der­ful”.

“I’ve experienced sex­ism, too, of course,” Crenn ex­plains, “but I’m a strong-minded per­son, so if I smell some­one who tries to be sex­ist to me, I shut them down very easy. It’s not be­ing ag­gres­sive, but you kind of look at them and go, ‘OK, what is your ar­gu­ment? Then we can talk about it’.Then you re­alise here’s an un­e­d­u­cated per­son, and you walk away,” she says.

Con­versely, Elena Arzak, the fourth­gen­er­a­tion chef at her fam­ily’s famed restau­rant Arzak in Spain’s San Se­bas­tian, said the Basque re­gion’s ma­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety is alive and well.

“At Arzak, 80 per cent of staff are women, and in the kitchen we have seven fe­male chefs de par­tie in charge. My grand­mother, my fa­ther’s mother, was a chef so it is nor­mal,” she says.

It was only when Arzak left San Se­bas­tian to train in France, Italy, Switzer­land and London ear­lier in her ca­reer that she ob­served the im­bal­ance of the in­dus­try, some­thing she’s con­fi­dent is im­prov­ing.

“On av­er­age, there were very few women but [the men] re­spected me very much. In my case I was lucky. It’s true that now you will still find less women but for me this a so­cial ques­tion of time. I wish there were more women but this will come with each gen­er­a­tion.”

Closer to home, Sydney chef and restau­ra­teur Kylie Kwong says helm­ing a restau­rant is full of per­sonal sac­ri­fice, re­gard­less of gen­der. “It’s an enor­mous com­mit­ment to make a restau­rant run smoothly and ef­fi­ciently, day in, day out, year in, year out.”

While her culi­nary in­flu­ences in­clude male and fe­male men­tors – her mum, Neil Perry, Mag­gie Beer, Stephanie Alexan­der and Rene Redzepi – she be­lieves the Best Fe­male Chef award has its place. “I strongly be­lieve it’s very pos­i­tive that the con­ver­sa­tion about achiev­ing gen­der equal­ity within a typ­i­cally male-dom­i­nated pro­fes­sion is hap­pen­ing,” she says.

As the World’s 50 Best group ed­i­tor Wil­liam Drew said in Jan­uary in de­fend­ing the gong: “Glass ceil­ings may have been cracked, and a few bro­ken, but none have been dis­man­tled en­tirely.” We are cel­e­brat­ing fan­tas­tic fe­male chefs. Go to de­li­­son­fire to meet the pi­o­neer­ing chefs you need to know

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