Nadia Santini of Dal Pescatore
Today, for the fourth year running, a multinational beverage conglomerate has named the world’s best female chef, or more precisely speaking, the Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef 2014. Her name is Helena Rizzo, she has a restaurant named Mani in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and she is obviously very talented.
But why does she need to be singled out for her gender, rather than the quality of her cooking?
I’m hardly the first person to pose the question. After Veuve Clicquot announced the results of last year’s contest, which is sponsored by San Pellegrino, disgruntled observers like Anthony Bourdain took to social media to question the point of such a designation. While one could argue that the relative lack of attention given to female chefs necessitates this kind of recognition, a more persuasive argument can be made, I think, that judging women based solely on the fact of their gender only furthers the idea that they’re somehow different, unworthy of being evaluated on the same playing field as their male counterparts. There’s no contest for best male chef (although some would point out, perhaps accurately, that such a thing would be redundant), so why create a contest based the false premise that these female chefs have something in common aside from a double-x chromosome? It’s like picking the best woman writer, or the best woman postal worker.
The Bay Area is crawling with talented women chefs—Sarah Rich, Dominica Rice, Sarah Kirnon, Kim Alter, Nicole Krasinski, Belinda Leong, Tanya Holland, Melissa Perello, Preeti Mistry, Traci des Jardins, Elizabeth Sasson, Gayle Piri, Jessica Boncutter, and the late Judy Rodgers to name a few—but we think of their food as a function of their talent and hard work, not their gender. And why would we? It’s not like they make recognizably female food, whatever the hell that is. They make good food, period, and that’s all that should matter.
The larger question, of course, is why these lists matter, and why San Pellegrino, a company incapable of making a sparkling water that doesn’t go flat within seconds of making contact with open air, gets to be an arbiter of such things. (You could take that a step further, of course, and ask where members of the food media, most of whom have never set foot in a professional kitchen, get off making similar pronouncements.)
Many people, of course, love lists for their ability to give order to the world, however arbitrary, and no doubt a certain segment of the international foodie coven appreciates someone telling them where to go, and when. As for the rest of us, we’re left to ponder why anyone thinks it’s necessary to separate chefs who don’t have a penis from those who do, and who benefits from it—aside from, of course, the marketing departments of beverage corporations.