3 top women chefs who change culinary landscape
France is undoubtedly the land of world-class gastronomy and fine dining. The country’s reputation for outstanding food and drink is second to none, and the chefs behind the scenes are making their mark across the globe. Here we would like to focus on three of France’s top female chefs who are changing the culinary landscape – Dominique Crenn, Anne-Sophie Pic and Stephanie Le Quellec. These women have excelled in gastronomy and have each been awarded Michelin stars for their respective restaurants. The French established the world-famous Michelin star rating system in 1926 for top-quality restaurants. According to the historic Guide, one star signifies “a very good restaurant”, two stars mean “excellent cooking that is worth a detour”, and three stars represent “exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey”. Let us celebrate the hard work and passion of each of these women and their impact and influence on the world of cooking.
Dominique Crenn (born in Brittany, 1965) is a French chef whose upbringing involved summers spent on the family farm in Brittany, a mother with an adventurous palate, and a politician father who brought her along to Michelin-starred restaurants. Crenn was initially discouraged by the male dominated French culinary scene, and instead earned a bachelor's degree in economics and a master's degree in international business.
However, upon moving to San Francisco at age 21, she chose to pursue her culinary aspirations. It is here that she established her restaurant l’Atelier Crenn in 2010. Just one year after opening l’Atelier she was awarded her first Michelin star. In 2014, she became the first woman in the USA to be awarded two Michelin stars. In 2015 she opened the more approachable Petit Crenn, inspired by her mother’s cooking and her native coastal Brittany. Crenn considers her work a type of artform, and was crowned the World’s Best Female Chef in 2016, by the World’s Best 50 Restaurants list. She is known for her inventive cuisine, treating her staff well and personally greeting her restaurant guests.
Crenn has long fought for gender opportunity in the restaurant industry and to mark the 2018 International Women’s Day, she invited the world “to set the table for equality…(to) celebrate the power and possibility of women in food by starting a new conversation”. In recent news, Crenn became the first woman in the United States to receive three Michelin stars (November 2018).
Anne-Sophie Pic (born in Valence, 1969) comes from a long line of chefs in the Pic family. She initially chose not to follow in the footsteps of her culinary family, and worked in management abroad in the US and Japan. However, at age 23 she returned to Valence to train under her father who sadly passed away just three months later. After a few years at front-of-house and the loss of one of her father’s Michelin stars, she was inspired to return to the kitchen despite having no formal training in cooking.
After years of finetuning her skills in the kitchen, she won back Maison Pic's three Michelin stars in 2007. This was only the fourth time anywhere that a female chef had achieved three Michelin stars.
Pic is famous for her curiosity and her organic cooking style, keeping things light and precise. This is perfectly demonstrated by her renowned blue lobster dish roasted in seafood butter. For Pic herself, consistency is key when it comes to innovation, stating “consistency means sincerity and authenticity. Innovation is about curiosity and open-mindedness. I am always interested in new techniques and new products but only if they nourish my thinking and creativity—not if they stand alone”.
Today, women make up 80% of the 250 employees across the restaurant group she runs with her husband David Sinapian. Pic’s reasoning is that, “like men, (women) have qualities and flaws, but they have a spirit of goodwill and don’t allow themselves to break off in the middle of something”.
STEPHANIE LE QUELLEC
Stephanie Le Quellec (born in the northern suburbs of Paris in 1980) comes from a family where a love of good food is essential to everyday life. Le Quellec has always been passionate about cooking and felt the pull to work in the restaurant industry. She was lucky enough to be taught traditional French cooking by two of France’s top chefs – Philippe Legendre and Philippe Jourdin. In her cooking today, she enjoys drawing inspiration from the simplicity of the cuisine from southern France.
Le Quellec’s restaurant La Scène is located in Paris’ chic 8th arrondissement, just behind the Champs-Elysées. She was awarded her first Michelin star in 2014 and was just awarded her second this January. Le Quellec is also very well-known across France for winning the second season of the elite cooking show, Top Chef.
Le Quellec shares her vision of cooking, “I like getting to the point. I want my cooking to be understandable. For my compositions to make sense, I create short, effective menus which are lively and seasonal”. She insists on the importance of taste and enjoyment when it comes to eating, and that a chef should know how to remove themselves from the dish. The young chef may be modest, but she is certainly one to watch.