Top Female Chef awarded to a Briton for the first time

Chef Clare Smyth (above), who runs Core By Clare Smyth in Notting Hill, is known for her light and modern interpretation of classic French cooking.
Chef Clare Smyth (above), who runs Core By Clare Smyth in Notting Hill, is known for her light and modern interpretation of classic French cooking.PHOTO: CLARE SMYTH/ INSTAGRAM

LONDON • London-based Clare Smyth has stepped up to the plate again, with her skills bagging this year's award for world's best female chef from World's 50 Best Restaurants and 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 e-mail statement on topping a poll of more than 1,000 industry experts.

"I hope to use this platform to encourage and mentor more women to achieve success."

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 was spawned from a British trade magazine in 2002.

Smyth, 39, who grew up on a farm in Northern Ireland, 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 fine-dining locations of Mayfair and Chelsea.

Her eatery has also drawn attention to its "Made in Britain" approach that embraces cutlery, silverware and art.

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 (S$120) and dinner is £75.

While there is no doubting her kitchen credentials, 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, chef Ana Ros of Hisa 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 told Bloomberg last year.

"The best chefs in this world - look at Massimo Bottura, look at Rene Redzepi - they have great wives. They are 100 per cent on their work because it's taken care of, their children, it's taken care of, their private life.

"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 has 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."

Smyth told the Evening Standard that the accolade also does a wider service, shining a spotlight on the depth of culinary talent in London and the quality of ingredients available in Britain.

Other previous winners of the award, in its eighth year, include chef Elena Arzak of Arzak restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain; chef Anne-Sophie Pic of Maison Pic in Valence, France; and chef Helene 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, Spain. BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2018, with the headline 'Top Female Chef awarded to a Briton for the first time'. Print Edition | Subscribe