Belfast Telegraph

Award for Northern Ireland chef 'sexist and outdated,' says Michael Deane

By Allan Preston

Having an award for the best female chef in the world is sexist and outdated, a leading Belfast restaurateur has said.

Michael Deane was speaking after Co Antrim woman Clare Smyth (39) was recognised at the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards.

Ms Smyth, from Bushmills, worked with Gordon Ramsay before setting up her own restaurant Core in Notting Hill in London.

The first and only female chef in the UK to be awarded three Michelin stars in 2007, Ms Smyth also provided the evening catering for 200 guests at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

After accepting the award for best female chef in the world in Bilbao, Ms Smyth said it was her hope there would soon be no need to split the awards based on gender.

"We have to do something about that, we're not going to change it by ignoring it… to separate (male and female chefs) for me is strange, but we don't see enough women coming through at the top," she told those attending the event.

"I would love to see very soon that we don't need gender-specific awards because women will have recognition and there will be a balance in the industry.

"Hopefully we'll see plenty of women on the 50 Best list and there won't be a need for that award," she said.

Mr Deane, who has held a Michelin star for 13 years, the longest period in Ireland, said the award was outdated.

"I see Clare Smyth as a chef first and foremost and we're very proud she's from Northern Ireland," he said.

"I think the best female award is sexist, but I suppose she had to take it because her restaurant is new and it's important she gets the publicity.

"It's phenomenal she's getting recognised at such a high level, but it's right she makes a stand about it.

"A few years ago people would have said women weren't as strong and needed pots lifted for them, but that's a load of nonsense.

"I like females in the kitchen, and all our chefs dress the same."

Celebrity chef Paula McIntyre said, however, the award was helping to encourage more women to reach the top level.

"I understand her point of view, a chef is a chef. But there aren't that many women chefs, especially at that level," she said.

"So just because of numbers there's still not much chance of being named the best chef in the world.

"I agree with her, but it's important that women get recognition and more young women are encouraged into the industry."

She said in her experience the perception of a macho environment in kitchens was no longer true.

"I didn't experience sexism within the industry, it was more from without," she added.

"You don't have as much credibility as a woman, so you could be a mediocre male chef with a big hat and you'll still have more credibility.

"I worked in England about 20 years ago, which was a bit more forward-thinking, so it was hard coming back to Northern Ireland.

"But it's changed completely now. There's lots of female chefs in Northern Ireland now and I think they are treated on an equal playing field."

Paul Rankin was the first local chef to be awarded a Michelin star.

"I agree with her, I find it very odd that chefs should be divided. It's not something that would ever cross my head - a chef's a chef," he said.

"Perhaps one of the reasons it's separated is that women carry such a huge burden within society and life.

"That's because they're usually take more responsibility for looking after a young family.

"That tends to put such a break in their career making late shifts at the restaurant very difficult.

"So it's harder to achieve the same heights in the kitchen and other avenues of life.

"So they've probably made this award to give girls more recognition."

Belfast Telegraph

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