In top restaurants, women do not play the leading role

In 1926, Michelin introduced a unique rating system called the Michelin Star. Although its origins began as a promotional activity for the French tire manufacturer, it became an exclusive guide for fine dining restaurants. 

Restaurants have a chance to win a star if they have exceptional cuisine, unique taste and outstanding service. To check this, the guide editors regularly sent out several anonymous reviewers, who soon became known as “the Michelin inspectors”. Since the Michelin stars soon proved to be a great success, the system was extended to three stars. Today, the rating guide is still active. Since then, the Michelin stars have become an integral part of the global restaurant industry. 

Inspectors don’t visit all chefs

Despite Michelin’s global growth, Michelin inspectors still do not pay attention to chefs in large parts of the world, such as Africa, Australia and India. Thus, only a relatively small proportion of global restaurants stand a chance of winning the culinary profession’s most prestigious award.

The culinary world is a man’s world

The first female three-star chefs were two French chefs in 1933 and 1951. In doing so, they made culinary history, and several women have followed in their footsteps. Yet the number of female three-star chefs remains in the minority. In 2017, less than five per cent of the stars went to women (out of 2,800 restaurants), and there were only two female chefs in the World’s Fifty Best Restaurants rankings. Three years later, nothing has changed. In a list of 130 three-star restaurants, only five restaurants have a female chef. That’s less than four per cent of the restaurant population, which has repeatedly led to criticism of the Michelin guide. 

It’s sad to see star chefs in the Netherlands

Ida Kleijnen was the first Dutch woman to receive a Michelin star. In 1983, as head chef of restaurant De Lindenhorst in Valkenburg, she managed to win a Michelin star. Kleijnen managed to keep the Michelin star for her restaurant until 1993. She lost her star the day she handed the restaurant over to her son. 

Anno 2022, the Netherlands has over a hundred chefs with a Michelin star. Of these chefs, Margo Reuten is the only woman. She was the only female chef with two Michelin stars in the Netherlands until the end of 2017 (She has since lost one). And together with Angélique Schmeinck, she is one of two female Master Chefs out of our country’s one hundred and forty master chefs. As head chef, Schmeinck managed to guard the Michelin star of Restaurant De Kromme Dissel in Heelsum for twelve years from 1988 to 2000. The KHN trade association estimates that women make up only 10 per cent of staff for professional kitchens.

Female game-changers

Fortunately, more and more women are radically changing the culinary world and fighting for more equality in the kitchen. A new version of the female chef is slowly emerging– dynamic, fighter, creative, cultured and curious. Vérane Frédiani is an excellent example of a female game-changer. She travelled the world to meet female chefs. In her documentary À la recherche des Femmes Chefs, she highlights the stars of world gastronomy, such as France’s Anne-Sophie Pic. 

Pic is the only woman to head a three-star restaurant in France, the legendary Maison Pic. She has three restaurants, which collectively have seven stars. This makes her one of the chefs with the most Michelin stars in the world. After seeing Frédiani’s documentary (in which she features in), Pic decides to hire more women. In 2018, 80% of the employees in her restaurants were women.

In the Netherlands, change comes slowly

Joris Bijdendijk, the chef of RIJKS restaurant, decided on International Women’s Day to put a different female top chef at the helm of his kitchen every month. In doing so, he gives the stage to the female game-changers from his profession. Bijdendijk realises that it’s a long road, but it’s a start, and he wants to make that start.

Sources

First Dutch woman with Michelin star died: https://www.1limburg.nl/eerste-nederlandse-vrouw-met-michelinster-overleden

Top chef Margo Reuten is the only woman in the Netherlands with a star: ‘My crowning glory’: https://www.evajinek.nl/onderwerpen/artikel/5185911/margo-reuten-michelinster-topchef-da-vinci-koken-restaurant-passie

7 top female chefs making a difference: https://www.lightspeedhq.be/blog/vrouwelijke-top-chefs/

Five female three-star chefs: who are they? https://culinaireambiance.com/wie-zijn-de-vijf-vrouwelijke-driesterrenchefs-in-de-wereld/

History of the Michelin stars: https://isgeschiedenis.nl/nieuws/geschiedenis-van-de-michelinsterren

Where are our lady chefs? https://www.foodinspiration.com/nl/waar-zijn-onze-lady-chefs/

À la recherche des Femmes Chefs: https://www.capuseen.com/films/5797-a-la-recherche-des-femmes-chefs

It’s time for more female top chefs: Joris Bijdendijk makes a start: https://www.evajinek.nl/onderwerpen/artikel/5052546/joris-bijdendijk-rijks-vrouwen-chefs-keuken