“A man’s cooking is in acting, while a woman’s cooking is in ‘pleasure'”

Interview.- This Wednesday, June 15, Louise Bourrat won the 13me edition of the Top Chef contest. The first woman to win it in almost ten years, she conquered the jury and the public thanks to her strong personality and her creative cuisine.

Last January, it was behind the scenes of the mythical Parisian palace, George V, where Louise Bourrat and the Belgian candidate Arnaud Delvenne met for the last time to win the “Top Chef” final. Proudly wearing the team colors of Hélène Darroze, the young 27-year-old chef distinguished herself during the eighteen weeks of competition for her daring and inventive cuisine, but also for her ambitious character, which led her to victory.

Based in Lisbon, her mother’s country of origin, she is in charge of the kitchen at the Boubou’s family restaurant, where in the kitchen it is mainly the women who wear the apron. We interviewed her the day after her victory.

Madame Figaro.- You are the first woman to win “Top Chef” in almost 10 years. What does this represent for you?
Louise Bourrat.- I think it will take me some time to realize what happened to me. It is a great source of pride and a great honor, but of course it comes with its share of pressure: the chefs who preceded us, such as Stéphanie Le Quellec, are very important in the industry. It’s also super stimulating for the future, it’s proof that it will bode well!

What role did Hélène Darroze play during this competition?
Hélène Darroze was a very important moral support. My intuition, from the beginning of the competition, was to go to her team, although I changed my mind a thousand times. I wanted to work with all the chefs, each of whom has different things to bring to the candidates. Ultimately, my reason led me to her for the simple fact that when I began to surround myself with women in the kitchen, it calmed me down a lot and had a very positive effect on my well-being. We both have a kitchen that is completely different, but I was in a new and stressful environment, and I thought I needed something familiar, comforting.

During the contest, she won the Anne-Sophie Pic single product test and then the Dominique Crenn seafood test. Why is it particularly important to have the recognition of women leaders?
It is not necessarily important that women recognize the quality of my work, cooking is very subjective and the goal is for everyone to appreciate it. On the other hand, I think my kitchen echoed these chefs because we have a similar approach to gastronomy. To me, a man’s cooking is mostly about performance, while a woman’s cooking is about “pleasure.”

What is a feminine kitchen for you?
Curiously, we say that a kitchen is feminine when it is delicate, refined, but I do not agree. In my opinion, men’s cooking is mostly about aesthetics, precision, skill, while women’s is about power, especially in terms of taste. I don’t want to generalize, but that’s what I find in the kitchens of the chefs I know.

Your brigade at Boubou’s is made up mostly of women. Why did you make this choice? How are the interactions different?
At first it was not necessarily a choice. Upon returning from the first lockdown, only the girls returned to work. All the responsibilities that the children were given, we took them on head on, together, and we got there. The atmosphere was much more pleasant, because of that solidarity, because of that non-individualistic state of mind. We feel so valued that it galvanized us and we feel capable of moving mountains.

You have worked for many restaurants, with or without a star. As a woman, have you ever suffered in brigades?
Yes, I almost stopped cooking because of that, although I was passionate about it since I was a child. At the beginning of my career, in addition to being a woman, I was an intern or employee. So they didn’t take me seriously at all. It was when I moved to the UK that things changed. I was respected, my word was taken into account; I discovered a new management mode that is much more inclusive and I evolved in the right direction, fortunately! But you have to know that there is no virulence only towards women: the apprentices suffer, the dependents too… In the name of excellence, the chefs inflict this torment on themselves.

Where do you expect the world of gastronomy to go in the future? A more feminist perspective?
You should know that the sector is already in full transition, because we can no longer hire. Nobody wants to work in the restaurant industry anymore, which is very understandable: the wages are too low, the hours are too long, it’s hard to balance work and personal life. There is too much stress, which leads to addiction problems. So today we are increasing salaries, which is already a very good thing. Therefore, we have no choice but to evolve the scenario towards something more positive and inclusive.

Feminist in gastronomy, is it a difficult position to assume?
No not at all. Feminism is a very positive thing, and it has nothing against men. The goal is women: value them, help them and tell them they can do it. In life, you have to get what you want, and that is a statement that applies to everyone.

We must not be afraid and go there with all the humility, strength, courage and vulnerability that we have.

A message for young women who want to become chefs?
I think women tend to move forward more humbly, apologizing for being there. But the problem is that it is a place that we do not reach if we do not go looking for it. My advice would be don’t be afraid. You have to go there with all the humility, strength, courage and vulnerability that you have, and that goes for both women and men. You have to go for it, but with curiosity, love and empathy. Of course, being a successful woman is not easy, it is not what is expected of us and you have to keep your head on your shoulders. The younger ones will face this, but it is necessary for the good cause.

Your plans for the future?
My life is in Portugal and I am very happy there. I want to continue working in my restaurant, to satisfy my customers. I also want to continue with this new management style that we started two years ago, bring the standard and gradually change the codes. I also want to enjoy life! I am ambitious but I do not lose sight of what is important: the simple things. I want to cook, see my friends, go to the beach. I just want to enjoy.

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