Apr 12 2016 3:30pm

Power Cooker: Women Rule the Kitchen

Today we're thrilled to be joined by Laura Florand. Laura is as famous for the food featured in her romances, as she is for the characters cooking and eating it. The second book in her Paris Nights series, Chase Me, came out last week and features a young, female Michelin-starred chef—and almost unheard of feat in the male dominated industry. Laura is here today to talk about other female chefs who have won the honor, and ask who some of your favorite culinary artists are. Thanks, Laura!

What kind of woman does it take to rule a Michelin-starred kitchen?

A force of nature.

She’ll need drive, ambition, an ability to work eighteen hours a day in intense physical, perfectionist conditions, enough authority to command a world primarily composed of macho men, and remarkable resilience. She’ll be burned, she’ll be beaten, she’ll be exhausted, and sometimes she’ll be reviled, and she’ll thrive regardless and turn the world around her into something beautiful.

Nothing can stop her. Because if something could, it already would have, long before she won those stars.

Those traits would be true even of a male top chef. But, yes, women have an even greater challenge. Because the upper echelons of gastronomy are famous for their machismo. Out of 111 restaurants holding the coveted three Michelin stars in 2015, only six had female head chefs. (Only seven women total have ever held three stars, in the entire history of the Michelin guide. One of them, the legendary Eugénie Brazier, is no longer with us. Two of the other six “maintain” the stars they inherited but a male chef was the first to win them. Not that maintaining three Michelin stars is anything to sneeze at, either.)

In France, where my stories are set? Only one female three star chef: Anne-Sophie Pic.

Similarly, only two women have ever won the coveted title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France, MOF. Meilleur Ouvrier de France is a rarefied honor acquired after an extremely strenuous competition for which people train for years, rather like the Olympics. The title is awarded in all kinds of domains that involve work with the hands (roof-laying, clockwork, hairdressing), but the culinary awards are the glamorous ones, the ones that draw all the press. If awarded, the title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France or “MOF” allows a chef to wear the bleu, blanc, rouge (blue, white, and red, the colors of the French flag) on the collar of their chef’s jacket. When Virginie Basselot was the only woman among the 25 chefs to win the title in 2015, she was the second woman in her field to receive it ever. In ninety years!

As in some other male-dominated fields, some of the established (ergo, male) chefs will tell you that the scarcity of women in the upper echelons is less because top kitchens are bastions of sexism than because of the brutally demanding physicality of the job and the impossible hours. How much you agree with that will probably depend on your own experiences negotiating (or not) traditionally male-dominated sectors of society. Myself, I’ve heard stories from both ends.

What’s certain is that any top chef must be an incredibly strong person, and this is doubly true for a woman trying to rise to the top.

Readers have been asking me for three years now, ever since the first Chocolate book came out, “When are you going to write a top female chef?”

Break through that glass ceiling!

It’s true that I absolutely love writing the complex and nuanced alpha masculinity that is a male top chef, one capable of winning three Michelin stars: arrogance, drive, ambition, dominance of his setting…all paired with an intense will to please, through all the senses. To find a way to a woman’s heart not, perhaps, through her stomach so much as through her tastebuds and all her other senses.

But once I got started on Violette Lenoir, she just flew off the page. After all, to do what she does, she has to be larger than life.

So through her, my hat’s off to all the women chefs out there, women who live for all their senses, who embrace the world with such enormous energy, and who won’t let anything stop them.

Here’s to breaking through glass ceilings, fighting your corner, and going after your dreams!

Now your turn: What are some books you all have read with top female chefs in them?

And what are some of your favorite real-life restaurants headed by female chefs? (My challenge to you! Let’s see how many we can list.)

Happy reading! And…happy eating!


Learn more about or order a copy of Chase Me by Laura Florand, out now: 

Buy at Amazon

Buy at B&N

Buy at iTunes



Laura Florand is an obsessed woman who loves nothing more than to invite herself behind the scenes with top chefs and top chocolatiers on the excuse that “she’s writing a book”. (Always write what you want to know, people! Always.) As she spends half her life in France, she also loves to set her books there, as you can find in the Amour et Chocolat series (The Chocolate Thief), the Vie en Roses series (Once Upon a Rose), and her latest series Paris Nights (All For You, Chase Me). You can find out more about her chocolate research adventures at www.lauraflorand.com.


Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Kareni
One of my favorite historical romances featuring a female chef is Sherry Thomas' Delicious.

Years ago, I remember reading a Nora Roberts romance that featured a chef renowned for her desserts. I recall her name being Summer, so a litte research has found that the title is Summer Desserts. In one scene, the hero is curious as to what he will find in her cookie jar (no, that's not a euphemism!); he was surprised to find Oreos.
2. LauraFlorand
Because Oreos are awesome. :)
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