Women at the top in Italian kitchens
The French word chef that we use for cooks means “boss.” The group of people that work in the kitchen is known as the “brigade” to people in the business. If we start with these two words, we understand how restaurants have historically implemented a system of hierarchy based on rank, similar to that of the military, which favors men in the profession. To give you an idea of the gender gap, today in Italy there are only 45 Michelin-starred female chefs in comparison to 298 male chefs in the 2017 guide. However, they do represent a large faction of the female chefs in the world (134).
But in Italy, there are female chefs and businesswomen who have shown they can run successful businesses in spite of not having the same visibility as men, having the same influence on Italian cuisine. MAG and foodcommunity.it have identified ten women chefs of different ages and experience who represent women in fine Italian cuisine in the past, present and future.
French born, but Italian by adoption, Annie Féolde (pictured) has made a significant contribution to the promotion of fine cuisine in Italy. In 1972, she began preparing “canapes” to accompany wines her partner Giorgio Pinchiorri served at the celebrated wine bar in Florence.
In spite of a fire that devastated it, Enoteca Pinchiorri soon became a landmark in the worldwide restaurant industry, thanks to Annie Féolde’s skill. In 1993, she received three Michelin stars and became known as the “diva of the kitchen.” Today, she oversees the menu of executive chef Riccardo Monco.
She recently received Legion of Honour status, the highest honor from the Republic of France. It was “for the extraordinary merits over her forty-four-year career” as a “leading figure in the food and wine industry in both nations.”
Nadia Santini, the first Italian woman to get three Michelin stars in 1996 and World’s Best Female Chef in 2013 by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, is historically known as a top woman in the kitchen.
Along with her husband Antonio, Nadia Santini has brought her restaurant Dal Pescatore located in Canneto sull’Oglio (Mantova) to the top of the classifications of global gourmet destinations.
Over the years, the Santini family has become one of the most important in traditional Italian cuisine, strongly committed to promoting local products.
Today, the Dal Pescatore property is emblematic of perfect family-run management and Italian hospitality.
For Milanese gourmands, there has been a mandatory stop for over fifty years. And that’s Luogo di Aimo e Nadia on Via Montecuccoli. Since 1962, Aimo Moroni and Nadia Giuntoli (Tuscan, born 1934 and 1940 respectively) have been able to create a benchmark representing the identity of Italian cuisine in the world. Thanks to their forward-looking management and their staff training, the restaurant has maintained its high quality over the years. Today Il Luogo sees daughter Stefania at the helm and chefs Fabio Pisani and Alessandro Negrini in the kitchen, but it is as if Aimo and Nadia are still there.
Cristina Bowerman is not just the chef of Michelin-starred restaurant Glass Hostaria in Rome, but a true self-made businesswoman. Born in Puglia, she trained in the United States. Before becoming a chef, she earned a degree in law and worked as a graphic designer in the U.S. Today, along with her companion and partner Fabio Spada, she runs the new Romeo Chef & Baker outlet, which is also located in the capital. Bowerman is also the president of the Italian Ambassadors of Flavor association, whose goal is to promote the heritage of Italian food and wine all over the world. “We must show that there is no field that can’t be worthily represented by a woman,” she said in an interview with foodcommunity.it. But Bowerman is against a quota for women: “It shouldn’t be obligated by management; meritocracy is what counts.”
The story of Viviana Varese’s – born in Salerno in 1974 – is described by many as being a fairy tale. After training in places like Albereta (in Gualtiero Marchesi’s camp) and El Celler De Can Roca, Viviana opened her restaurant Alice in Milan in 2007. Sandra Ciciriello, maître d’, sommelier and seafood expert, is by her side, bringing high quality fish to the restaurant. Over the years, Varese has received many acknowledgments from the most important guides, such as Best Female Chef; the restaurant has also received one Michelin star. In 2014, Alice moved to its new location to Eataly Smeraldo, and is celebrating its tenth year this year.
Her parents wanted her to be a lawyer. Today she is one of the best chefs in Italy and the first woman judge on MasterChef (taking Carlo Cracco’s place). Born in 1979 in Trieste, Antonia Klugmann studied law in Milan, but realized her passion was in cooking while recovering from a car accident. She left her studies and began her career in food, first taking cooking courses and then working in Italian restaurants. In December 2014, she opened her restaurant L’Argine di Vencò in Dolegna del Collio (Gorizia) on the border of Italy and Slovenia, earning a Michelin star just a few months after opening. In the past, Klugmann was on La Prova del Cuoco, an Italian cooking show, and is now going to be a judge on Masterchef, bringing more visibility to women chefs in Italy.
“My father was the chef, and I had to live up to this fact. In the beginning, I confused the clients and myself too. Then everything went smoothly and I gained credibility.” That is how Aurora Mazzucchelli explains her climb at Marconi, her family’s restaurant located in Sasso Marconi (Bologna), where she revolutionized Bologna’s culinary traditions with her flair, bringing a Michelin star to the restaurant in 2008. Today Aurora runs Marconi (along with brother Massimo, the manager and sommelier). The restaurant was renovated in 2016 with a more contemporary style.
Born 1980 in Campagna, Marianna Vitale opened Sud Ristorante in Quarto Flegreo, outside Naples in 2009. She quickly rose to the top in global fine dining, achieving many prizes and acknowledgments from leading national guides in addition to the Michelin star received in 2012. Along with husband and sommelier Pino Esposito, she took on the challenge of what she herself calls “an oasis in the desert” despite the skepticism of others. But today, the results are obvious to everyone as the chef proudly explains how Sud has become a destination for culinary tourism, even for those who come all the way from northern Italy to try her food.
Caterina Ceraudo is a rising star in Italian cuisine (see MAG no. 84). She is the chef at Dattilo in Strongoli (Crotone), which was featured in The New York Times as a not-to-be-missed Calabrian destination in 2017. Born in 1987, Ceraudo was trained by Niko Romito before leading the restaurant at her family’s organic farm where vegetable gardens, vineyards and olive groves supply the products for her local cuisine. In 2017, she was awarded the Michelin Female Chef Award 2017, which aims to promote women in the restaurant business.
At age 21, she was already listed by the American magazine Forbes as one of the “30 Under 30” in Europe to watch for in the years to come. Isabella Potì is the sous and pastry chef at Bros owned by Floriano Pellegrino (who is also very young) in Lecce. She trained in London as well as with Basque chef Martin Berasategui. After Floriano’s two brothers left Bros for other projects, Potì moved to the front line, guiding the restaurant, whose main objective is to promote Salento-inspired and Mediterranean cuisine. We will surely be hearing more about her.