Like a person’s race or religion, a chef’s gender shouldn’t even feature as a descriptor, but sadly there are still far more male than female chefs in kitchens across the UK today and still fewer who are at the helm. Data from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2017 only 17% of chef positions in the UK were held by women and while figures might have changed slightly since then, it’s unlikely the number has risen much due to the challenges associated with this traditionally macho career.
The most obvious reason for the discrepancy in kitchens is the same as in many other male-dominated industries: the issue of maternity and childcare commitments. Many of the female chefs we interviewed as part of our Ayala SquareMeal Best Female Chefs Series mentioned that more could be done to help women balance a career in hospitality with having children – something that the long and unsociable hours don’t tend to allow for.
That said, with more and more female chefs reaching the top of their game, things are improving slowly. Two Michelin-starred chef Hélène Darroze told us that for the past couple of years she has, for the first time, received more job applications from women than men, though she tries to maintain a gender balance in her brigade. Top British chef Angela Hartnett echoes that same sentiment about the balance of men and women in her kitchen, saying she cares more about nurturing talent than exercising some sort of female prerogative.
But having an article focused on female chefs or awards specifically for female chefs isn’t about female prerogative or tokenism; it’s about evening out the scales. Darroze summed it up nicely when she said, “female chefs are still a minority and, like all minorities, it’s important to be visible”.
So with that in mind, and to mark International Women’s Day 2020, we’ve profiled 21 of our favourite female chefs who are smashing it in the male-dominated restaurant world, and look forward to the day when lists like these are redundant.
Nieves Barrágan Mohacho
Who is she? For nine years she was executive chef at Barrafina (and the woman responsible for its Michelin star), but since 2018 Barrágan Mohaco has been at the helm of her first solo restaurant, Sabor, just off Regent Street. Thanks to her, queues outside the four Barrafinas are still a nightly event and they now snake out of Michelin-starred Sabor, too. Read our full interview with Nieves Barrágan Mohacho for more about what motivated her to open one of London’s best restaurants and stay tuned for news of a second Sabor restaurant rumoured to be coming to Soho.
What should I order? Barrafina has always been famous for the best croquetas in London; some reckon that Sabor’s prawn and piquillo versions are even better.
Where can I find her? Sabor: The Counter, 35 Heddon Street, Mayfair
Who is she? Charmingly dubbed ‘the new Fanny Craddock’ by Gordon Ramsay on The F Word, Bhogal hasn’t let that backhanded compliment stop her launching award-winning cookbooks, TV shows and supper clubs. Jikoni, her first restaurant, is her crowning glory, a unique combination of cosy kitsch and cracking cooking.
What should I order? One of the three signature Scotch eggs; the prawn toast version, with banana ketchup and pickled cucumber, gets our vote.
Where can I find her? Jikoni, 19-21 Blandford Street, Marylebone
Who is she? Anyone who has ever bit into a pillowy-soft Taiwanese bun has Chang to thank for turning the Taiwanese delicacy mainstream with Bao, the market stall-turned-restaurant in Soho and Fitzrovia and Borough. Her follow-up, the more formal Xu, is just as fascinating.
What should I order? The ‘classic’ bao, an umami explosion of peanut and slow-braised pork belly.
Where can I find her? Bao Borough, 13 Stoney Street; Bao Fitzrovia, 31 Windmill Street; Bao Soho, 53 Lexington Street; Xu, 30 Rupert Street, Soho
Who is she? The recipient of the 2015 World’s Best Female Chef award (among numerous other awards and accolades) and chef-patron of the recently-refurbished two Michelin-starred restaurant at The Connaught hotel. Darroze comes from three generations of chefs, but training with Alain Ducasse cemented her fine-dining credentials. She was also the inspiration for Collette in Pixar’s Ratatouille and now exists in Barbie doll-form. For more on her 30-year career, read SquareMeal’s full interview with Hélène Darroze.
What should I order? Scallop with tandoori, carrot, citrus and coriander is a signature dish – as is a glass of Darroze Armagnac.
Where can I find her? Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, Carlos Place, Mayfair
Who is she? A long-standing Wareing alumnus who worked her way up the ranks to become chef-patron of his eponymous restaurant, alongside her husband Mark. Originally from Northern Ireland, Froydenlund began her career at Pétrus under Marcus Wareing and has worked for the chef ever since.
What should I order? Beef, in whatever form it comes (currently on the menu is dry aged Galloway beef fillet with glazed onion and cep).
Where can I find her? MARCUS, The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Belgravia
Who is she? The chef-patron of Mere is one of the best known female chefs on TV thanks to her role as a judge on Masterchef: The Professionals. It’s the kind of fame that guarantees full houses for her first solo restaurant, though it’s certainly not just Galetti’s famous face that draws the crowds – the former senior sous chef of Le Gavroche is just as much of a star in the kitchen as she is on the telly. To learn more about Galetti’s success as one of London’s top female chefs, read the full interview she gave as part of our Best Female Chefs Series.
What should I order? The six-course tasting menu gives a taste of everything this masterchef has to offer.
Where can I find her? Mere, 74 Charlotte Street, W1T 4QH
Who is she? Don't overlook Goodwin-Allen because she doesn't have a London restaurant – her Northcote restaurant in Lancashire has held a Michelin Star for over 20 years and she has maintained it since she took over in 2017. Her fresh, modern menus make full use of Lancashire’s natural larder providing ample opportunity for seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients to shine.
What should I order? The photogenic, technically perfect and frankly delicious sweet scarlet prawns with wild-garlic foam and beurre blanc sauce.
Where can I find her? Northcote, Lancashire
Who is she? The chef-patron of Spring and winner of 2019’s AYALA SquareMeal Female Chef of the Year award. The Aussie chef and food writer made the national news in 2012 when she resigned from Petersham Nurseries and described winning a Michelin Star as a ‘curse’, but is better known these days for her commitment to sustainability and her disarmingly simple cooking that champions impeccably sourced British ingredients. To learn more about the ways in which this lauded female chef is blazing a trail for the industry to become more sustainable, and to learn what she means by “organics with voodoo”, read our full interview with Skye Gyngell.
What should I order? Sea bass carpaccio with blood orange, crème fraiche and rhubarb typifies Gyngell’s mix of seasonal Mediterranean and British flavours.
Where can I find her? Spring, Somerset House, Covent Garden
Who is she? The first female winner of the Young National Chef of the Year award in 2017 and head chef at Pomona’s in Notting Hill. Aged just 24, Hansom spent five years at The Ritz progressing from commis to Chef de Partie, and has also appeared on BBC’s Million Pound Menu. Her passion for locally-sourced British produce is evident in the fresh, vibrant dishes on her menu at Pomona’s.
What should I order? Anything ‘from the sea’ on Pomona’s seasonal menu.
Where can I find her? Pomona’s, 47 Hereford Road, Notting Hill
Who is she? Trailblazing Angela Hartnett first won fame as the breakout star of Hell’s Kitchen with her then boss Gordon Ramsay. Inspired by the cooking of her Italian grandmother – and now as much of a restaurateur as a chef – she has Michelin-starred Murano and three Café Muranos in St James’s, Covent Garden and Bermondsey to her name, as well as Shoreditch’s Merchants Tavern. In 2018, Hartnett won our first Ayala SquareMeal Female Chef of the Year award.
What should I order? Hartnett’s pasta is sublime; try the pumpkin tortelli with sage and pine nut at Café Murano.
Where can I find her? Murano, 20 Queen Street, Covent Garden; Café Murano Covent Garden, 36 Tavistock Street; Café Murano St James’s,33 St James’s Street; Café Murano Bermondsey, 184 Bermondsey Street; Merchants Tavern, 36 Charlotte Road, Shoreditch
Who is she? The female chef once at the helm of some of London’s most well-known kitchens, including London House and Bob Bob Ricard, Dublin-born Haugh now heads up her own restaurant. Her menus at Myrtle use as much Irish produce as possible.
What should I order? Haugh’s roasted beef fillet with boxty is sublime.
Where can I find her? Myrtle, 1A Langton Street, Chelsea
Who is she? Kiwi-born Margot (and wife of Fergus Henderson of St John fame) heads up the Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch and Rochelle Canteen at The ICA in St James's. The restaurants serve stripped-back, unfussy food that pleases all the senses. She specialises in catering and cook-book writing, too and has been claimed by many to be a genius of hospitality – we agree.
What should I order? The menus change regularly, but her grilled lamb with green sauce is a must.
Where can I find her? Rochelle Canteen, Shoreditch; Rochelle Canteen at The ICA, St. James’s
Who is she? The first female executive chef at two Michelin-starred Le Gavroche, where she has worked since 1996. Championing seasonal ingredients, she is living her childhood dream of cooking with the Roux family. For more on the chef’s career and aspirations, read our full interview with Rachel Humphrey.
What should I order? The ever-present and ever-gorgeous soufflé suissesse at Le Gavroche (we’re a sucker for the classics).
Where can I find her? Le Gavroche, 43 Upper Brook Street, Mayfair
Who is she? Yet another Marcus Wareing alumnus, Irish-born Keogh worked at Pétrus and then Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley before teaming up with chef-patron Taylor Bonnyman to open The Five Fields in Chelsea in 2013.
What should I order? Foie gras with beetroot, rainbow carrots and pickled shimeji mushrooms.
Where can I find her? The Five Fields, 8-9 Blacklands Terrace, Chelsea
Who is she? The chef and owner of Darjeeling Express in Soho and also the first British chef to feature on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. Her relaxed, comforting restaurant provides a showcase for her blend of north Indian and Bengali cooking.
What should I order? Khan's Tangra chilli and garlic prawns are zapped with a tongue-popping five-spice blend and are an absolute must-try.
Where can I find her? Darjeeling Express, 2nd Floor, 6-8 Kingly Street, Soho
Who is she? Winning the 2017 series of BBC Two’s Great British Menu is no small feat and thoroughly put this Southgate-born chef – and her modern Turkish cooking – on the map. After opening Turkish Cypriot restaurant Oklava in 2015, she went on to open her second venture, Kyseri, in the middle of 2018. Kyseri has since closed and reopened under a new guise – an all-day Oklava that specialises in Turkish bread.
What should I order? The lahmacun (Turkish pizza) at Oklava Shoreditch impressed us, and we’re sure they'll impress you, too.
Where can I find her? Oklava, 74 Luke Street, Shoreditch; Oklava Bakery + Wine, 64 Grafton Way, Fitzrovia
Who is she? Having been groomed for greatness at Murano by Angela Hartnett, Lacey went solo with Hicce in the the Coal Drops Yard development at King's Cross (with backing from Hartnett) in late 2018. A Great British Menu finalist in 2017, Lacey serves great-tasting, healthy, international food.
What should I order? The crème caramel to finish, made with condensed milk for added richness.
Where can I find her? Hicce, 102 Stable Street, Coal Drops Yard, King's Cross
Who is she? The Paris-born quarter-finalist of 2018’s MasterChef: the Professionals heads up the kitchen at The Cleveland Arms following roles at Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental and Aster. Her style is French cuisine with influences from Asia and South America.
What should I order? A Sunday roast with all the trimmings.
Where can I find her? The Cleveland Arms, 28 Chilworth Street, Paddington
Who is she? The grand dame of French cuisine, Anne-Sophie has an impressive eight Michelin stars across her five restaurants, including the two-star London-based La Dame de Pic at Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square.
What should I order? Her signature berlingots (pasta parcels of goats’ cheese and mascarpone) and a fantastically constructed millefeuille dessert.
Where can I find her? La Dame de Pic at Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square, Tower Hill
Who is she? Ask most chefs where they like to eat on their time off and many will say The River Café. Of course, it helps that many of them learned to cook at Ruth Rogers’ legendary Hammersmith restaurant, which first opened its doors in 1987. Critics might complain that it is legendary because of its prices, but you’re paying for the best ingredients Rogers can get her hands on.
What should I order? The lemon tart is the sort of simple classic that is impossible to reproduce at home.
Where can I find her? The River Café, Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, Hammersmith
Who is she? The only British woman to win three Michelin stars during her 11 years as head chef and then chef-patron of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Smyth opened her first solo restaurant, Core, in summer 2017. Since then, she's been awarded two Michelin stars and won every award under the sun, including SquareMeal's Restaurant of the Year title for 2018. Tasting menus of British ingredients are the focus, with an emphasis on making vegetables as important as meat and fish.
What should I order? Carrot braised in lamb stock confounds expectations of just how good our homegrown veg can taste.
Where can I find her? Core by Clare Smyth, 92 Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill
SquareMeal has partnered with Champagne Ayala for the Best Female Chefs Series, where editor Ben McCormack interviewed four of the UK's best female chefs.
Can’t get enough of famous chefs? Check out our list of the best chef’s tables in London where you can get up close and personal with the kitchen talent cooking your dinner.