Women are increasingly making their mark in the culinary world, and inÂ Asia, this is true nowhere more so than in Singapore. Meet Janice Wong, Karla Mendoza, Sabrina Stillhart, Shen Tan, and Violet Oon, five of the most talented female chefs working in the Lion City today.
In his tell-all memoir KitchenÂ Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Anthony Bourdain details at length the machismo, unabashed bluster, and foul-mouthed tomfoolery he experiencedâ€”and happily wallowed inâ€”while rising through the ranks of New York City kitchens. The worlds he describes are decidedly masculine; the few women who thrived in these rough-and-tumble boysâ€™ clubs, Bourdain notes, did so only by following the unspoken boysâ€™-club rules. â€śWhat the system seeks, what it requires, is someone, anyone, who can hold up his station, play the game without getting bent out of shape and taking things personally,â€ť he writes.
That may still be true, but times have changed since Bourdain cut his culinary teeth in the 1970s and â€™80s. Unseemly shenanigans in restaurants across the world remain part and parcel of the trade, but as in most professions women have long since stormed the kitchen in greater numbers, altering the food worldâ€™s economy and dynamics. Gender is increasingly irrelevantâ€”in most cases.
For all the strides women have made across the industry, some divides linger, particularly in Asiaâ€™s upper tiers. Take, for example, the influential Asiaâ€™s 50 Best Restaurants list, which ranks venues in more than 25 countries across the continent. In 2016, only one restaurant helmed by a female chefâ€”Lanshu Chenâ€™s Le MoĂ»t in Taichung, Taiwanâ€”made the cut, at number 30. As in its global and other regional iterations, the awards also include a separate group for â€śAsiaâ€™s Best Female Chef,â€ť which suggests a certain imbalance in terms of who is running the show at the regionâ€™s top dining establishments.
This overall lack of female representation indicates neither a sexist conspiracy nor a gender-based talent gap, but rather that, particularly in Asia, women leading prestigious restaurants and other food enterprises is still an emerging trend. If the exponential progress of recent years in places like Singapore is any indication, however, it is a trend thatâ€™s gaining steam.