London-based Clare Smyth won this year’s award for the world’s best female chef, becoming the first British woman to claim a title that usually goes to chefs in mainland Europe.
Smyth, who opened Core by Clare Smyth last year in Notting Hill, was the only female chef in Britain to hold three Michelin stars when she ran London’s Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. She was with Ramsay for more than 13 years.
“This accolade is not for me but for all the women working in the hospitality industry around the world,” Smyth said in an emailed statement. “I hope to use this platform to encourage and mentor more women to achieve success.”
Smyth grew up on a farm in Northern Ireland. She is known for her light and modern interpretation of classic French cooking. Her informal approach is reflected in her choice of Notting Hill for her restaurant, rather than the traditional locations of Mayfair and Chelsea for fine dining.
At Core, she has dispensed with tablecloths and stiff service, offering new dishes such as a starter based around a single potato served with beurre blanc, herring and trout roe. The lunch menu costs £65 (US$90) and dinner is £75.
The Elit Vodka World’s Best Female Chef Award comes from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, an organisation that has gained influence since it spawned from a British trade magazine in 2002.
The award is controversial. Some chefs and food writers (mainly male) have said it is insulting to have a separate award for women. Last year’s winner, Ana Roš of Hiša Franko, in Slovenia, was unimpressed by such criticism.
“It is very clear that for a woman in a male world, it’s always going to be difficult,” she said last year. “The best chefs in this world – look at Massimo Bottura, look at René Redzepi – they have great wives. They are 100 per cent on their work because their children [are taken care of], their private life is taken care of. They come home, probably somebody even cooks for them and has time to chat to them. Do you think that happens to a woman? You can never compare these two different worlds.”
Smyth said she had discussed the lack of women leading professional kitchens with the 50 Best team.
“There is no right and wrong way to address this, but things won’t change if we do nothing,” she said. “When we see women represented in numbers in lists like these, then we will have changed the industry for the better and these awards will no longer be needed.”
Other previous winners of the award, in its eighth year, include Elena Arzak, of Arzak restaurant in San Sebastián, Spain; Anne-Sophie Pic, of Maison Pic, in Valence, France; and Hélène Darroze, who has restaurants in London and Paris.
This year’s winner of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants award will be announced on June 19 in Bilbao.