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Female chefs and the stars on their plate

  • Michelin winner Garima Arora is now Asia’s Best Female Chef
  • She follows in a line of legendary chefs who have won the award and paved the way for the rise of female chef

Garima Arora
Garima Arora

Garima Arora is just adding to her growing list of accolades, the most recent being the elit Vodka Asia’s Best Female Chef 2019 award. Her Bangkok-based restaurant Gaa earned its first Michelin star within less than a year of opening, making 32-year-old Arora the first Indian female chef to win the honour.

Arora follows in the footsteps of other trailblazing women chefs. In 1933, the first year that the Michelin guide gave out three stars, chef Eugenie Brazier of Lyon, France, became the first female chef to helm two restaurants, both of which won three Michelin stars each. Brazier even mentored Paul Bocuse before he became a legendary chef. The early years saw other female chefs who were awarded three Michelin stars—but that trend changed over the decades.

Anne-Sophie Pic; Clare Smyth
Anne-Sophie Pic; Clare Smyth

Ironically, Bocuse was the man who went on to say, in a later interview in the 1970s, “I prefer my women to smell of Dior and Chanel than of cooking fat." This attitude percolated across the industry, and cooking came to be regarded both as a male bastion and a blue-collared job. With only one woman grabbing top Michelin honours in the 1990s, the list seemed to reflect the trend of the abysmally low number of female chefs helming restaurants around the world.

When Anne-Sophie Pic won her three Michelin stars in 2007, she became the first Frenchwoman in 50 years to do so. Clare Smyth became the first female chef in the UK to retain three Michelin stars. These female chefs showed the way for other women and Guide Michelin reports show that the balance improved over the 2000s with a higher number of women across the world being awarded one, two or even three Michelin stars. The 2018 French guide was accused of being sexist, with a vast gender disparity between the awards that led to its own hashtag #MichelinToo. In 2019, Michelin France released a list where an unprecedented number (11 in all) of female-led restaurants were awarded stars. As the balance tips in favour of female chefs in Michelin guides worldwide, one can only hope this marks the award’s early promise of recognizing talent—irrespective of gender.

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