Does The Michelin Guide Have A Female Chef Problem? Only FIVE Female 3-Star Michelin Chefs In The World!

Michelin’s Lack Of Stars For Female Chefs…

First, bravo to Chef Dominique Crenn for receiving her third Michelin Star last fall, for her incredible cooking at her restaurant Atelier Crenn in San Francisco…more on that in a moment.

While my wife and I were thrilled for Chef Crenn, who has been featured on the terrific Netflix series “Chef’s Table”, it also stunned me to learn that she is the first female Chef in the United States to EVER receive this honor – in 118 years of publication!

Where Are The Female Chefs?

Yes, I was very surprised that NO female Chef in US History has EVER been given three Michelin stars – how is the possible?

And here’s another interesting fact: of the 120+ Three Michelin star restaurants around the world, only five are run by women: Arzak (Elena Arzak), Maison Pic (Anne-Sophie Pic), Dal Pescatore (Nadia Santini), Sant Pau (Carme Ruscadella, described by Michelin as a “short-haired feisty Spanish-Catalan chef”), and now, Atelier Crenn.

Here is Chef Crenn in her kitchen the night we ate at the restaurant. When she received the third star last fall, Eater San Francisco reported on their website that the honor was overdue:

Atelier Crenn earned two stars by 2013. With the exception of Baumé, all of her two-star brethren that year — Benu, Saison, Manresa, and Coi — had already been elevated to three stars. Quince, which held a single star that year, was promoted to three in the 2017 guide. All are run by male chefs (Coi was downgraded in 2019).

Hmmm…4 other two-star restaurants, run by male Chefs, received their third star BEFORE Crenn…and since the Guide doesn’t reveal their reasons for what they do and don’t choose, we have no idea why the only woman had to wait so much longer than the others!

I have been lucky enough to see many incredible female Chefs in action, and it was hard to understand why so few have been acknowledged by this guide, widely considered the most important award a Chef can receive.

So I started to research other articles about the way in which female Chefs are begin judged by esteemed magazines, guides and culinary organizations…and it’s troubling.

I found an article in Elite Traveler that asked the same question – why are so few 3-Michelin starred Chefs female? Here’s what they reported:

“The status of the top chef has skyrocketed in the past decade, with food bibles such as the Michelin restaurant guide highlighting the best of the culinary world – and recognizing those who make it what it is.

But in the midst of cooking legends from Alain Ducasse to the Roux brothers, one has to ask: where are all the women?

Research shows that 4.7% of chefs and head cooks in the US are female, while in the UK women make up just under 20% of chefs. The statistic is thought to be even lower when it comes to fine dining restaurants.

TIME magazine’s “Gods of Food” feature, published in November, was met with fierce criticism when just three – out of 15 – places were given to women, none of whom were chefs (coffee grower Aida Batlle made the list, along with Amrita Patel, chairperson of the National Dairy Development Board in India, and Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva).”

Bravo for the great reporting, you can see the entire article at their website here:

https://www.elitetraveler.com/features/the-rise-of-the-female-michelin-star-chef

Add Food & Wine to the list of magazine reporting on this, with a great story about the Michelin award specifically for women!

35-year old chef Fanny Rey has reason to be mirthful this year. The former Top Chef France 2011 finalist saw her namesake restaurant-auberge in Saint-Rémy de Provence awarded its first Michelin star in February 2017, making her the only woman among the guide’s new winners. She simultaneously earned another honor, the 2017 Michelin Female Chef Award, a prize sponsored by Veuve Clicquot celebrating gastronomic excellence that first launched in Great Britain and Ireland last fall.

But it wasn’t the Michelin star she was celebrating on a recent October evening at her restaurant, which she runs with her companion and the restaurant’s pastry chef, Jonathan Wahid, but rather the journey toward a new legacy as an avatar of the women’s movement in the French food world. Whether she anticipated it or not, it’s a role that inherently comes with the recognition, especially in a professional context in which women continue to be underrepresented, often overlooked or reduced to delicate foils to the might of their male counterparts.

The article goes on to ask why Michelin has created a “sub-category” for women – a way to honor them without honoring them, in a sense – great questions to ask.

Read more of that story here:

https://www.foodandwine.com/news/michelin-award-female-chef-debate

I have posted stories about the Michelin Star system before – including this terrific book about a Chef who committed suicide, and the circumstances surrounding his death:

“The Perfectionist” told the story of acclaimed French Chef Bernard Loiseau, and whether his fear of losing his third Michelin star drove him to suicide.

That question was never fully answered, and has been controversial for years in the culinary community – you can read more about this story here:

https://johnrieber.com/2018/09/05/the-dark-side-of-michelin-stars-one-chef-rejects-them-a-famous-chefs-suicide-the-pressure-to-cook-three-star-food/

I raise the questions about female Chefs, and how Michelin has acknowledged them, because the guidebooks, and the stars, are so important to the success of a restaurant.

We were excited to meet Chef Crenn in her kitchen and eat her incredible food, which is presented in the form of a poem that she writes to capture how she feels about the menu she has created:

You can see what we ate and how it was described in Chef Crenn’s poem – click here for the story:


https://johnrieber.com/2019/01/13/americas-first-3-michelin-star-female-chef-chef-dominique-crenns-atelier-crenn-a-poem-to-gastronomy/

Let’s hope that the number of Chefs receiving this acclaim continues to rise in the future!



Categories: Art, Awards, Books / Media, cookbooks, Food, food blog, Food Review, Memoirs, Pop Culture, Recipes, Restaurants, Talent/Celebrities, Travel, Travel Adventures, Travel Memoir, Uncategorized, Wacky Food, wine

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15 replies

  1. We love watching Chef’s Table and hearing all about these aspiring chef’s. Great and informative post John. Thanks!

  2. Very good questions and they need asking, for sure. No organisation should have such power and not be transparent as to its methods and the reasons for their decisions. Everybody should be made accountable. Thanks for such a thorough and well-researched article.

  3. Congrats to Chef Crenn but yes, it is time for women chefs to be acknowledge and celebrated.

  4. Terrific John and have pressed for tomorrow on my blog.. I hope that articles such as yours and the next generation of chefs will have a higher percentage of women. I think it is worth taking some steps backwards and looking at schools and the loss of technical colleges in the UK as well as apprenticeships that has not helped encourage girls to enter the profession..

    • That’s a great point – cooking schools here in the US have exploded in the past decade, but seem to be focusing a bit too much on how to be famous as a Chef – and it is a male-dominated industry that is WAY behind the times in adapting and accepting empowered women leading a kitchen! Thanks for sharing, and of course of the comment!

  5. I wonder if the michelin guide has women reviewers, or if most of the reviews are done by blokes. It shouldn’t…but I have a feeling that might give them a bias as to what (or who) they think of a “real chefs”.

    It’s a shame, but the restaurant Industry does not sound welcoming to women.

    • There was a “tell all” book by an Inspector apparently released in Europe a few years ago, and it wasn’t a pretty picture – far fewer “reviewers” than you soul think, and virtually ALL men

  6. I think the chefs suffer the same fate as many women in professional or technical careers. They represent a smaller percentage of the whole, so that tends to be reflected in promotion and recognition.
    Exceptions would be Nursing, Teaching, and Doctors, at least in the UK, where females are well-represented in those roles
    Best wishes, Pete.

  7. Interesting, John. There are far fewer women in senior positions in corporate and big business than men too. I still believe it is often a conscious choice. When women have children many of them choose to take a step back in the workplace. Maybe that is a good thing for the sake of our children?

    • Those are good questions to ask – but as I point out in my story, it took Chef Crenn longer to achieve her third star that almost every other San Francisco two-star restaurant – why? There are fewer than 5% of all Michelin stars given to women – there is something going on that seems unfair to women – and while in many cases women have decided to focus on home life instead of a career, often they are not given the same chances as men, and that is prevalent throughout all businesses

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