Food and Restaurant Digest #36, 4 May 2018 
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The World's "Best Female Chef"

Earlier this week, chef Clare Smyth (who worked with Gordon Ramsay for over a decade) was named elit Vodka's (in partnership with The World's 50 Best Restaurants) "World's Best Female Chef", which some critics lauded as a win for Britain (Smyth being the first British chef to be recognised as such, after already being the first British female chef "to hold and retain 3 Michelin stars"), while others lamented what they saw as the condescension of having an award specifically for females (Bourdain's tweet below, from 2013, indicates that this has been a concern for some time already):

In the Washington Post, one journalist opined that the

"'best female' awards put women in a separate category than — it’s implied — real (read: male) chefs, so offering a female-only award might just be a way for an organization to appear as if it is doing the right thing. Only three women made last year’s World’s 50 Best list. Instead of doing the work to elevate women in the industry — and, consequently, to give them a better shot in the main rankings — these groups separate the women out into their own awards as a way of overcompensating."

The Post article also quotes Ana Roš, the Slovenian chef who won the title last year, as saying that “I had chef friends who said I should go on the stage and say I am not accepting it. I said: ‘Did you ever say no to an award?’ So here is my explanation. It is very clear for a woman in a male world, it’s always going to be difficult. A woman has so many roles — as a mother, as a wife, as a lover, as a housekeeper — and then you try to fit in 14 or 16 hours working,” suggesting that acknowledging a gender divide is indeed appropriate and necessary. 

But it's a tricky time, especially as the global restaurant industry has to work on recovering from revelations about the widespread sexual harassment that was evidently a poorly kept secret for years, with both critics and disgraced chefs and/or restaurateurs considering their next best move.   

It would be ideal to affirm that measuring any chef's standing should only come down to how welcome and well looked-after their guests feel, but it's perhaps an unescapable reality that men and women are treated differently in the hospitality industry. And while it's certainly possible that awards like the one Roš and Smyth have received contribute to making women "outliers" as the heads of restaurant kitchens, this and other initiatives (like a new documentary featuring only female chefs) could also help to put women in the spotlight that they deserve. Whatever the case, we have no problem simply celebrating their talents as chefs.

Latest from our site   

For our latest review, Jean-Pierre re-visits Terroir at Kleine Zalze Estate, and concludes that even though "this is not a fine dining restaurant in the sense of any airs nor graces, ... the quality and detail on the plate allows it to compete very comfortably with places that are far more pretentious, and for Terroir to take its rightful position as one of South Africa’s best."

We also recently featured a piece from our last newsletter which considered restaurants as the "third space", or places that "that recognise the uniqueness of everyone who works at and visits them, rather than 'just' formulaic watering and feeding holes)."
Bits and Bites
When lunch is not just about the food: Have you heard of the Spanish tradition of sobremesa? A recent BBC article explains: "Food matters a lot in Spain, but the social aspect of it matters even more. Lunch, for example, doesn’t end when people can’t eat another bite. That’s when the sobremesa starts. There is no equivalent word in English, though the concept is simple: sobremesa is the time you spend at the table after you’ve finished eating. Usually, there’s laughter involved, and almost always the kind of easy, convivial conversation that only the pleasures of a big meal can inspire." Sounds like a very civilised way to extend lunch till dinner-time.
A suspicion of garlic: One Twitter user inspired a hilarious thread when he tweeted examples of menu items that seem to focus on "eliminating the original structure of foods" (think Parmesan air and strawberry dust), asking what's next, a "memory of broccoli", or a "vicious rumour about carrots"? There were lots of fun suggestions, but one of our favourites was from an actual English translation of an Escoffier cookbook, which called for a "suspicion of garlic" as one ingredient. (The French original was probably a soupçon, meaning a small amount, which just makes the mistranslation even better.)  

On the chef who planned to change the world: The Guardian recently profiled Homaru Cantu, the self-taught chef who arguably outdid even Ferran Adrià
 in kitchen wizardry and trickery (at Moto, his erstwhile Chicago restaurant, menus were printed on edible paper so diners could literally eat the whole menu after perusing it). But his inventions were not only directed at delighting high-end diners - he had plans to put an end to world hunger, and to eradicate Type-2 diabetes. Sadly, Cantu took his own life in 2015, but as the article explains, "the revolution he began endures. Since his death, his ideas have become increasingly influential and if his proteges in Silicon Valley succeed, then Cantu might one day be known as the chef who helped change the way we all eat." 
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