There’s little we love more than seeing women crushing it in the restaurant world and, while we applaud the successes of our industry heroines on the daily, we certainly won’t pass up an opportunity to raise a glass in their honour for International Women’s Day. To celebrate the occasion, we’re sharing the inspiring stories of several ladies who are changing/have changed the hospitality game and made a lasting mark on our industry for the greater good of generations to come. Here's to you, gals!
“I stood shoulder to shoulder with men in the toughest kitchens in the world and excelled and loved it. So to separate [male from female chefs] for me is strange, but we don’t see enough women coming through at the top and we need to do something about it.”
A lady very close to our hearts at FSM, it’s not difficult to see why Clare features in our hit list. Hailing from Northern Ireland and growing up on a farm which first ignited her passion for food and nature, she is now an internationally renowned chef celebrating the recent achievement of her third Michelin star at Core in Notting Hill - the first female in the UK to receive this accolade, may we add. Her uncompromising dedication to her craft has earned her countless awards including the title of The World’s Best Female Chef in 2018 and Chef of the Year at the 2019 National Restaurant Awards.
Fun fact: Clare is soon to open her own restaurant in Sydney, having been inspired by her time Down Under at the start of her career. The concept will draw inspiration from Core, but with a strong focus on the best local produce over there. #WatchThisSpace
"I really respect the way that men cook, but they cook with their technique and they cook to prove something. Women cook to please people, which is different.”
Hélène’s destiny to become a chef was evident from the get-go, spending her childhood in and out of her family’s Michelin-starred restaurant in Landes, a southwestern region of France. Taking huge influence from Alain Ducasse with whom she worked for many years, her cooking presents a unique and boundary-pushing interpretation of French fine dining, using international flavours and ingredients to highlight extraordinary produce while respecting authenticity. She is now responsible for three prestigious restaurants across London and Paris, including another rare 3-star establishment, and her collection of awards includes World’s Best Female Chef in 2015 and Chevalier in the French Legion of Honour - France’s answer to a knighthood.
Fun fact: Hélène was the inspiration for the character Colette in the well-loved Pixar film Ratatouille.
“It’s an ongoing process, maintaining such high standards and keeping my team motivated to do so. But now I’m looking at my profession as a woman and how I might be able to change people’s thinking and behaviour in the industry in that regard. There’s still work to do.”
Celebrated chef Anne-Sophie was the first female in her home country of France to earn three Michelin stars, and the fourth in the world. Entirely self-taught using her refined palate and sense of smell to guide her, Anne-Sophie is famed for her preference for unconventional produce and a highly emotional and intuitive approach to cooking. Her family has now owned their restaurant through three generations and this treasured institution is understood to truly represent French gastronomy and the French way of living. Now at the helm of several kitchens across the world, she’s determined to change the perception of women in her field.
Fun fact: Her favourite song to boost energy levels in the kitchen is Elton John’s ‘I’m Still Standing’.
“I’ve never felt it’s been a hardship being a woman. I’ve always felt I have it as my advantage.”
As well as being a world-recognised chef and high-profile female in the industry, Angela is also a cherished figure amongst the British public thanks to her appearance on numerous television cookery programmes including her veteran judge role on Great British Menu. Originally from Kent, Angela opened her first restaurant Murano in 2008 which earned a Michelin Star after just four short months of operation, and has since received an MBE for her services to the industry.
Fun fact: Angela’s ultimate favourite thing to eat is roast chicken prepared super simply with a touch of lemon and thyme.
“Originally, the structure of restaurant kitchens was based on that of a military brigade — very male, very macho. We have to change the conversation and we have to provide opportunities.”
Dominique has made history as the first woman in the US to achieve 3 Michelin Stars at her restaurant Atelier Crenn in the heart of San Francisco, which champions artistry and treats cuisine as a form of emotional expression. Her second, smaller, ‘Petit Crenn’ - whose name you may recognise from Netflix’s series Chef’s Table - was inspired by her childhood in Brittany spent with her adoptive parents who introduced her to fine dining from a very young age.
Fun fact: During the pandemic, Dominique transformed Petit Crenn into a community kitchen to provide produce from their biodynamic farm in Sonoma for members of the local community.
“The world is changing; more and more women are becoming top chefs...and in any case, a woman in the kitchen was normal when I was growing up. It was a matriarchal society.”
Elena and her father’s restaurant in San Sebastián was the first to fly the flag for Basque cuisine and receive three Michelin Stars. The institution dates back over 120 years and was first opened as a bar by her great-grandparents in 1897 - really standing the test of time. In the kitchen she constantly experiments with unexpected combinations and surprising textures while keeping ingredients from the Basque region at the core of her food philosophy.
Fun fact: Elena has a laboratory above the restaurant with her own library of flavours, where she devises all new recipes and lets her creative juices flow.
(The late) Julia Child
“One of the secrets, and pleasures, of cooking is to learn to correct something if it goes awry; and one of the lessons is to grin and bear it if it cannot be fixed.”
There was no way we were going to miss Julia off the list. This heroine revolutionised the lives of home cooks across the world over four decades by making sophisticated French cuisine approachable for the first time through her cooking school, award-winning cookbooks and globally-recognised television shows. Her famous title ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ broke down complex culinary techniques and intimidating ingredients into digestible bites, and remained the bestselling cookbook for five straight years after its release in 1961.
Fun fact: Julia was a spy during World War II, holding a position at the Office of Strategic Services where she went on to meet her husband, Paul.
“I think it’s the responsibility of the restaurant industry and employers to support women when they decide to have families and be given the opportunity to get back into the kitchen. It’s still tough to get that balance, but as long as there’s a good support network, hopefully we can get more women embracing this amazing industry.”
Samoan-born Monica Galetti spent many of her early years in New Zealand, before she jetted over to London for a role at Le Gavroche with Michel Roux Junior whom she then worked with for 14 years. She now has a renowned London restaurant of her own which she runs with her husband. She is, however, perhaps most well-known for her role as a judge on MasterChef: The Professionals, on which she was initially known as 'Scary Monica' thanks to her matter-of-fact honesty. Over the past ten years on the programme, she’s inspired, taught and mentored many successful chefs and claims that it’s taught her a world of patience in her culinary career.
Fun fact: She cannot stand watching herself on the television, as she apparently hates her smile.
“When you have the best and tastiest ingredients, you can cook very simply and the food will be extraordinary because it tastes like what it is.”
Owner of the illustrious Chez Panisse in California, Alice Waters is chef, author and trailblazing food activist rolled into one. Recognised as the pioneer of the global farm-to-table movement, her restaurant was one of the first to bring organic, sustainable ingredients together with the concept of fine dining. She now has 16 books to her name and her groundbreaking work has been lauded with many awards including the National Humanities Medal by Barack Obama. It’s not hard to see why she’s the food hero of many of today’s best chefs around the world.
Fun fact: Alice cooked filmmaker Werner Herzog’s shoe for five hours in garlic and wine in Les Blank’s 1980 documentary, 'Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe'. All in the name of art!
“Japanese society as a whole is not very supportive of women in the workplace or of women having a career. Perhaps there are not many females making sushi because it's something that is not imaginable in people's minds.”
Niki is believed to be the only female chef in the world to master the tradition of kaiseki - an ancient Buddhist-inspired Japanese cuisine served in a series of flights. To you and me, that’s an elaborate tasting menu showcasing premium ingredients and exquisitely delicate presentation. N/naka is her L.A. restaurant which she manages with her wife and is run almost entirely by women. It began as one of the city’s best-kept secrets and a destination for only the truest of food nerds, but word has since spread and the wait for a table now stands at around 3 months.
Fun fact: Her surname translates to "inside the mountain", with the first part "naka" meaning inside. She included this in her restaurant's name to demonstrate that it plays an integral part of her life, or is "within her".
“When journalists called me up and asked me for horror stories about being a woman in a kitchen, I was like, “I don’t have any.” I worked for Michael McCarty, Jonathan Waxman, and Wolfgang Puck, and they all treated me with respect. I never realized that being a woman was an issue or a problem.”
An iconic figure in the baking world, Nancy is best known for spearheading the artisanal bread movement which we’re all familiar with in bakeries across the world today, and for founding the infamous La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles. These achievements and her contribution to Californian cuisine have earned her the title of “Outstanding Chef” - the highest honour from the James Beard Foundation - and a profile episode on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Today you’ll find Nancy in L.A. where she looks after three Italian-inspired hotspots.
Fun fact: It took Nancy more than a whole year to perfect the crust for her famous pizzas.
“Until we can create pathways for minorities and women, and gender minorities, to be in charge, to be leaders, and to profit off of these jobs—both in kitchens and in other parts of the food industry—then that’s not real diversity, that’s not real inclusion.”
San Diego-born Samin is a triple-threat: a writer, teacher and chef, who’s also been said to be “the next Julia Child”. She has a knack for pairing the right techniques with the best ingredients, and in her award-winning cookbook 'Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat' she highlights the importance of understanding your ingredients: where they come from, who helped grow them, and how different cuisines around the world handle them to achieve diverse and delicious results. The success of her bestseller - which was named one of the 10 best cookbooks of the 21st century by The New Yorker - led to its transformation into a must-watch docu-series on Netflix.
Fun fact: Samin’s career in food all started with a meal at Chez Panisse - she was so bowled over by the food that she wrote to the chef Alice Waters, pleading to work for her. The rest is history.
“It’s more than just creating beautiful pastries – it’s also about creating a real story about the dessert.”
Jessica was just 32 when she was crowned the World’s Best Pastry Chef in 2019 - the award's first female recipient - and is one of a very small number of female pastry chefs working in a 3 Michelin-starred kitchen. Hailing from a family of pastry chefs in Mont de Marsan in Southwest France, she followed them into the industry and went on to coin the concept of ‘desseralité’: a combination of dessert and naturalité. This style adopts a pure approach to pastry, using her own culinary methods to bring out the natural sugars and raw flavour of fruits, while respecting the ingredients, seasonality and the producers. Fifty of her creations now stand proudly in her own book, named after this philosophy.
Fun fact: Jessica has never let members of her pastry-versed family taste her desserts, for fear that they wouldn’t understand her sugar-free approach.
“For me, [being a woman] hasn't necessarily been a struggle, but for other people it is. I understand that I have to speak up when I feel that something is wrong, and sometimes it's uncomfortable because people will come for you, especially on social media, but I have to.”
Having received the Bartender Award in 2019’s World’s 50 Best Bar Awards, Monica is a force to be reckoned with in the drinks sphere and her London bar 'Tayēr + Elementary' opened to critical acclaim in 2019. Drawing strong inspiration from nature, Monica set out to celebrate under-appreciated ingredients at their seasonal prime with a cocktail list in constant evolution inspired by her team’s most recent creative experiments. The word ‘Tayēr’ derives from the Spanish meaning of ‘workshop’, representing the never-ending nature of their craft. Sustainability also plays a crucial role in their approach.
Fun fact: Monica swears by a hangover cure of coffee, Berocca and, if the situation gets really desperate, a shot of Fernet Branca.
Sources: The World's 50 Best, SquareMeal, The Gentlewoman, The Glossary Magazine, Vogue, Great British Chefs, My Life In France, The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution, Zagat, Los Angeles Magazine, Document Journal, The Wordrobe.
Written by Saskia Gunewardena