When the 2018 World's 50 Best Restaurant list was announced last June, frustration ensued. Even though the organization had faced years of criticism for its lack of diversity, the new list was more of the same, including shockingly few women-led kitchens (just four in the top 50). Plus, the continued existence of a separate Best Female Chef award begged the question, yet again: "Aren't women good enough to compete in the normal chef category?'"
While the long-vexing Best Female Chef designation is controversial, the women awarded it are talented and deserving; this year, England's Clare Smyth took the prize, and in 2016, Dominique Crenn did. Crenn, who has been a vocal critic of the restaurant-ranking industrial complex, told the Washington Post of the award, “You can promote women in a different way. It’s stupid. A chef is a chef.” Indeed, recognizing more women on the World's 50 Best List would be a great place to start, and now it seems like the organization is finally metabolizing some of its criticisms; in January, World's 50 Best changed its rules in an attempt to diversify. Starting in 2019, any restaurant that has ever been listed as number one will not be eligible for inclusion anywhere on the list. The organization also stated that its voting panels will be better balanced and more diverse.
"You have to start somewhere," Crenn told Food & Wine about the announcement. "You have to do the first push, and I know that it takes time. Is it happening because there’s pressure, or because they think it’s the right thing to do? I hope they’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do."
We caught up with the French chef, who was recently awarded a third Michelin star at her San Francisco flagship Atelier Crenn, at Cayman Cookout, Eric Ripert's annual food festival at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman. Crenn said that she hopes the organization—and all others like it—go even further, especially when it comes to the somewhat transactional judging process.
"If you do a list like this, every year you need to change the voting panel," she said. "There is so much lobbying between people, and I know that because I’m in the industry. Even between journalists and chefs. They need to clean it up...It needs to be different. They want to have equality and be transparent? That’s what they need to do."
In September, World's 50 Best issued a statement responding to some of its long-standing backlash. "From now, 50 Best is committed to achieving a 50-50 gender balance across its 1,040-strong worldwide Academy of voters," wrote director Hélène Pietrini. "Prior to the next round of voting for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Academy members will also be encouraged to look beyond the current list, to explore a diverse mix of restaurants during their travels and to take issues of representation into consideration in their voting choices. With a minimum of 25% of the panel renewed every year, we have the opportunity to recruit more female experts into the voting Academy."
This weekend, Crenn said she appreciated World's 50 Best new effort, and recognizes that the process takes time. She is even willing to offer her help.
"Are you going to talk the talk and walk the walk? I can help if they want," she said. She recalled the good that came from calling out San Pellegrino's 2018 Young Chef competition for having an all-male jury of 37. (That's right; not a single woman.)
"They were on top of it right away, and I appreciate that," she said. "I'm not bashing anyone. It’s so beautiful when someone says, 'I think you’re right; we need to do this; let's work together.'"