Film-maker derides Michelin Guide for under-representing women

PARIS • Verane Frediani, a film-maker who made a documentary about a search for female chefs worldwide, is not impressed with the Michelin Guide, whose coveted stars can make or break restaurants around the world.

At a time when the #MeToo movement has put the heat on sexual harassment and gender inequality in the workplace, the guide awarded new stars to 57 French restaurants, only two of which have women chefs.

"I was really shocked and angry because it's been years that we don't understand why, in the 50 new stars, there are no or very few women," said Frediani.

She sent up a post on Twitter with the hashtag #MichelinToo, with the aim to shame the guide for what she considers its abiding contempt towards women.

The two women who won stars this year bring the total to 16 female chefs among the 621 Michelin-starred restaurants in France.

That less than 3 per cent ratio is lower compared with other countries. Of the 195 Michelin-starred eateries in Spain, 19 have women chefs, according to the guide's publisher Groupe Michelin.

There are 20 women chefs at the 166 starred restaurants in the United States.

Italy has the most, with 44 out of 365, or about 12 per cent.

Gender imbalance in the kitchen is as French as foie gras and as traditional as a postprandial coffee.

France has long enshrined the practice in which women cook at home for the family while men acquire fame and wealth as chefs in famous restaurants.

"The first is a lonely work at home for a limited circle," said Mr Franck Pinay-Rabaroust, editor-in-chief of the gastronomic information site Atabula and a former writer for the Michelin Guide.

"For the second, there is an organisation, a brigade to direct."

Male domination of professional French cooking goes back to the Middle Ages. "The court was itinerant and when kings were travelling with their staff, in general, it was rather men who followed," said Mr Patrick Rambourg, a historian and specialist on French gastronomy.

"When you have this historical model for so long, it can move but we need to give it more time."

The Michelin Guide said none of this matters: It is only about food.

But the guide is inextricably part of tradition and reflects the prevailing norms. In its 118-year history, it has awarded its top honour, three stars, to only four women chefs, from Eugenie Brazier, the chef at La Mere Brazier restaurant in Lyon in 1933, to Anne-Sophie Pic, the most recent woman to win a star, in 2007.

Some who study France's culinary tradition explain the absence of women from professional kitchens by pointing to physical demands, such as the ability to wield a heavy cooking pot or wrestle an animal carcass.

Having children is also cited as a reason, since combining a family life with a restaurant schedule is challenging.

"Today in cuisine, we hardly see a woman take a chief position because the rhythm is extremely tough," Mr Pinay-Rabaroust said.

"They have to work twice as much to show they are equal to men."

Frediani hopes to change that.

While making her 2017 documentary, The Goddess Of Food, she discovered that there were many women chefs out there.

She and her friends are now trying to come up with their own list of restaurants owned by female chefs in France.

After an appeal sent through social media, they received about 200 names. "The idea is to publish it openly," she said. "So we can no longer say that there are no female chefs in France."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2018, with the headline 'Film-maker derides Michelin Guide for under-representing women'. Subscribe