While it feels slightly unnatural to select to celebrate people based on their gender, when we started the Female Chef Awards we decided to do so to readdress the balance. You see, as with many professions across the UK, women are hugely underrepresented in the world of chefs.
In 2017 The Office for National Statistics reported that just 17% of chef positions were filled with women, meaning under a fifth of chef roles across the UK are held by females. With fewer women in chef positions there are less role models for girls to look up to and want to imitate, and similarly there aren’t so many female faces on cooking shows and food television series either. In our conversations with female chefs there’s another common theme that emerges, and that’s the issue that surrounds childcare and maternity leave. Many women we’ve spoken to think more needs to be done to allow for flexible working in an industry which has historically demanded gruellingly long shifts and irregular working patterns from its staff.
With these challenges in mind we want to shine a light on the exceptional homegrown talent we are lucky to have here in the UK. It might seem like an ambitious goal but we're hopeful that this will help to inspire the next generation of cooks, so that in the next cohort of chefs there’ll be equal representation for women and no need for lists such as ours.
So, while we don’t want to seem tokenistic, we do want to champion women who are doing incredible things in the hospitality sector (and, spoiler alert, there are so, so many). All the chefs we’ve chosen are at the top of their game, flying the flag for incredible cooking and exceptional standards. Below you’ll find more details on the interviews and awards we’ve previously covered, including our list of the top female chefs in the UK.
About the Ayala SquareMeal Female Chef of the Year Awards
Each year we scour the country to come up with a list of top female chefs. We look at all sorts of criteria, from creativity and innovation to training and style. While we had to sadly skip 2020 due to restaurant's being closed during the Coronavirus pandemic, we're back and more excited than ever for this year's Female Chef Awards. In the late summer we'll be hand-picking a shortlist of exciting talent on the culinary scene to create a short list for SquareMeal readers to vote on and will crown one person the 2021 winner before the end of the year. You'll be able to find all the updates, including the polling shortlist, here once they're live.
The top female chefs in the UK
As part of our commitment to representing women in the indsutry, we've put together a guide on the best female chefs in the UK at the moment. Our run-down includes Michelin starred legends and fine dining champions as well as emerging talent who are keen to mix up traditional techniques and look at new ways to present food.
Popular chef and author Asma Khan owns Darjeeling Express in Covent Garden
Previous Female Chef Award winners
Looking to find out more on the women we've heroed as our top-class female chefs? Below are two features on the winners of the past couple of years. Skye Gyngell took the last crown in 2019, while before her Angela Hartnett - who is famed for her laidback Italian-leaning food and generosity with flavour - was given our first ever Female Chef title in 2018.
Best Female Chefs – a series of interviews and profiles
Below you can find a selection of all the Female Chef Features we've covered as part of our Best Female Chefs series, including an interview with our last winner Skye Gyngell who runs Spring in London and heads up the food at exclusive countryside hotel Heckfield Place.
Skye talks biodynamic farming in England, avoiding food wastage and eliminating cling film and reusable bottles
The Murano patron chef tells us about working hideous hours, the importance of nurturing talent and being the only woman in the kitchen at Gordon Ramsay's nineties restaurant Aubergine
Nieves speaks to us about growing up in Spain, the joys of open kitchens and working close to customers, and success at both Barrafina and Sabor
The Gavroche head chef opens up about growing up in Dunstable, cooking in the Falkland Islands and rising to the top in a legendary, family-run restaurant
Marianne tells us about her favourite foodie destinations, lessons from being a private chef and and the joys of cooking a soufflé in a 14-cover restaurant
The Masterchef judge opens up about what it's like working with your husband and the need for female chefs to have a better work-life balance. But what's her favourite cooking gadget?
Hélène highlights the differences between Paris and London, how Brexit will affect things and how the star in the kitchen is the produce
Anna tells us about her sense of achievement, improving the working environment for chefs and why Gordon Ramsay is a great boss
An introduction to AYALA Chef de Cave Caroline Latrive
In the early part of her career, Caroline Latrive took a job advising growers in Champagne but found it was difficult for clients to take advice from someone who was both younger and a woman. Since then, her career took her to Champagne Ayala which had been bought by Bollinger in 2005 and ever since 2007 she has been part of the work that has redefined and revitalised the brand. In 2011 she became chef de cave, at a time when there was only one other female head winemaker in Champagne.
Spring’s lemon tart with Fern Verrow strawberries and raspberries and crème fraiche
- “I love serving Champagne with dessert. This dry, light and elegant Champagne works perfectly here with the crisp pastry and the gently sweet summer berries.” Skye Gyngell
Helene Darozze’s fine de claire oyster tartare with Kristal caviar, and white coco bean from Béarn chilled velouté
- “The Chardonnay lends this Champagne its elegance and brings freshness, structure and aromas of white flowers. The oyster tartare also has freshness, as well as a taste of the sea, while the caviar’s clean, buttery flavour and hint of nuttiness is in complete alchemy with the character of the Champagne. Lastly, the creaminess of the smooth coco bean velouté contrasts with the Champagne’s palate-cleansing acidity and minerality. A perfect combination of harmony and contrast." Hélène Darroze
Le Gavroche’s roast langoustine with langoustine consommé flavoured with star anise
- “Shellfish with Champagne is a fabulous match. Nothing in this dish overshadows the Champagne. The lightness of the consommé and the delicate flavour of the langoustines match the lightness of the Blanc de Blancs, while the sweetness of the carrots in the garnish contrast with the Champagne’s natural acidity.” Rachel Humphrey