Ana Ro?'s Best Female Chef Award

This year's winner believes women need to speak out

Last week, as some of the world's most revered chefs and restaurateurs celebrated their spots on the annual World's 50 Best Restaurants list, others bemoaned the persistent lack of women and ethnic diversity on the list. Of the top 50, only three restaurants have kitchens that are run by women, and in all three instances, men co-captain the kitchen and are often cited as the head chef.

The 50 Best organization has also been criticized for bestowing the annual designation of Best Female Chef. This year, that award went to Ana Roš, the self-trained Slovenian chef who co-owns and runs Hiša Franko near the Italian border. "I got a phone call at end of December asking if I was accepting," Roš explained late last week from the restaurant. She was grateful and told the organizers, "I am not in a position of saying no to an award of this importance."

Though Roš is keenly aware of the controversy of the award and the list as a whole, she feels strongly about the impact the award can have on other women in the industry. "There is such a low percentage of women in the kitchen. In that percentage, you have to find women to speak out. . . . I think a female chef can be a role model for other women, that everything in life is possible if you want it and if you have a focus," she explains. That "everything" even includes children.

Dominique Crenn, who won the award last year, shot back at a reporter in Australia who asked if she was missing out on "the very important role of being a mother to children." A mother to twin girls, she responded, "If you have kids, I hope you stay home with them, so that your wife can go out and be a badass woman."

On her way home from the awards, Roš was asked by another female chef in the airport in Abu Dhabi how many children she has. She responded "two" and asked the other chef how many she has. The chef responded, "I'm not sure I can have children, because I'm in love with the kitchen." Undeterred, Roš responded, "You can if you want. Everything is possible if you want it."

That doesn't mean Roš's or Crenn's life isn't a complex balancing act. During Roš's acceptance speech, she said, "We live in constant conflict between our family and our professional career. When I work 18 hours in the kitchen, I am not with my children, and when I'm with my children, my brigade, my clients and my restaurant miss me a lot. There's always someone missing me a lot."

Roš spent more than two days flying to and from Australia for just 60 hours on the ground. "We just launched a new spring menu, and my children are at home, so how can I make a holiday [of] a situation like this?"