The World’s 50 Best addresses gender disparity

11 September, 2018 by
Madeline Woolway

After facing increasing criticism for its Eurocentric, male-dominated list in recent years, The World’s 50 Best Restaurants has conceded more concrete steps must be taken to address its lack of diversity.

Director Hélène Pietrini has penned an open letter outlining the organisation’s plans to tackle the list’s lack of gender diversity — but the announcement has failed to appease many in the industry.

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Pietrini writes of the responsibility that comes with being an influential list-maker, stating the organisation is concerned about maintaining the integrity of its voting system while making moves to increase inclusivity and diversity — in 2018, it’s no longer acceptable to have a list that includes only four restaurants clearly led by women.

Claiming the list is built to “reflect the gastronomic world as it is, rather than as it should be”, Pietrini suggests it’s still possible to “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.”

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To do so, the 50 Best will focus on achieving a 50-50 gender balance across its global Academy of 1040 voters. As Pietrini is quick to note, women already make up half of the 26 Academy Chairs who oversee the global voting panel.

The award for Best Female Chef is another point of contention for the organisation, with many labelling it as token, unnecessary and offensive.

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Previous recipients have rarely been at the helm of restaurants that appear on the top 50 list itself, but Pietrini argues the award amplifies the achievements of women and broadcasts their messages to an international audience.

Making a stand against the award is Carme Ruscalleda, who declined the 50 Best’s Best Female Chef award in 2012.

Ruscalleda is head chef at the Moments restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona and owner/operator of Sant Pau restaurant in Sant Pol de Mar, Spain, and Sant Pau de Tòquio in Japan.

In an interview with Spanish publication La Vanguardia earlier this year, Ruscalleda said “The ‘World’s Best Female Chef’ award is awful. To have nowadays this kind of award is awful. They are putting us in a second row, they are putting us on the shoulder. Women do not go by the shoulder. We go through the lane that circulates.”

Speaking to Hospitality magazine about the controversy, renowned Australian chef Alla Wolf-Tasker AM said she was heartened by Pietrini’s announcement.

“Carme Ruscalleda’s refusal of the World’s Best Female Chef award, Dominique Crenn’s article and many other similar initiatives have served to really throw open this much-needed dialogue far and wide,” she said.

“The award itself however, continues to cause me discomfort. It’s almost a compensatory gesture. It says, ‘You’re not really up there (in fact you’re often not included on the list) but, here you are, have this’. One of my male social media followers called it ‘endearingly old fashioned’ — I’m inclined to agree.

“I’m hoping to live long enough to see sufficient parity in the industry for female chef/restaurateurs to be able to stand toe to toe with their colleague/brothers in competition for accolades and awards.

“There’s plenty of work to be done in mentoring and fostering young female talent to achieve that. It’s clear that much of that work, through gatherings and increased visibility is already bearing fruit.

“Regarding the gender parity on the panel — a good move I believe — as long as the prime selection basis is for the most appropriate people to be involved: those with genuine benchmarking experience and the capacity to visit and dine at many of the world’s finest restaurants. I’d say it would be easy to achieve gender balance with that sort of criteria.”

Ultimately, only 2019 will tell if the changes are reflected in a more nuanced list of the world’s best restaurants.

Image: Dominique Crenn & Hélène Pietrini in 2016.

Credit: Identità Golose