The gender gap and future of French gastronomy addressed at World’s 50 Best Restaurants forum

17 Sep 2019 / 13:48 H.

THE theme of a gastronomic panel discussion held in Paris on Monday was to explore what it means to cook French cuisine in 2019. But soon after opening the floor to discussion, the crowd was quick to point out a glaring oversight: the lack of women.

At the #50BestTalks forum, hosted by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, the panelists were made up of five top male chefs in France: Yannick Alléno, Mauro Colagreco, Bertrand Grébaut, Romain Meder and Alain Passard.

But not long after the discussion got underway, an audience member pointed out the conspicuous lack of female representation on the panel, a remark met with applause from many in attendance.

“You talk about cooking without borders, but where are the women?”

Female representation has always been an inflammatory topic at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The organisation’s “world’s best female chef award” has been criticised as condescending and patronizing, and it continues to divide the food world.

“If we’re going to talk about modernising French cuisine, you should have started there,“ said another audience member.

Brand director Hélène Pietrini defended the organisation’s selection by pointing out that the line-up included female chef Manoella Buffara from Brazil and that the showcase luncheon was being prepared by some of the most exciting female chefs in Paris.

Meanwhile, French radio journalist and moderator Eric Brunet brought up another World’s 50 Best controversy head-on, addressing the backlash the group has faced from France, which has taken offense to the lack of French representation on the list.

The fallout resulted in the launch of a new French restaurant ranking, La Liste, which claims to use algorithms to classify restaurants. Another French dining guide Le Fooding will also be releasing its picks for the best new bistros in Paris, New York, Mexico City and London in November, in response to their disdain for the way the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list is organised.

In his opening remarks, Brunet pointed out that France has been accused of being arrogant and conservative when it comes to gastronomy and that it risks being eclipsed by other international cuisines.

“Is French gastronomy in danger?” he asked the chefs.

Chef Grébaut of Septime restaurant in Paris knocked down the notion, saying it’s not a competition.

“That question implies that we’re sitting on top of a throne. Why do we have to be put in opposition to others?”

Alléno acknowledged that traditional French gastronomy can be resistant to change and credited younger generations and international expat chefs for shaking up the landscape over the last decade.

“More and more, we’re seeing that chefs are becoming more open and expressive in France and that’s fantastic for diners.”

Colagreco, whose French Riviera restaurant Mirazur tops this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, is the first foreign-born chef to hold a three Michelin-starred restaurant in France.

“I’m not French but I cook French cuisine,“ said the Italian-Argentinian chef who called his cooking “New French cuisine.”

“My cooking has no borders and no limits.”

The 2020 edition of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards will be held June 2 in Antwerp, Belgium. — AFP Relaxnews

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