Paris’s culinary world has oozed machismo for decades. From condescension to bullying, women in hospitality have endured misogyny at every turn. “Patriarchy is ingrained throughout France’s food industry”, said Nora Bouazzouni, author of Faiminisme: When Sexism Comes to Dinner. “Women can cook at home but doing so at a prestigious restaurant is a man’s job. The discrimination – the constant reminder of gender – is a strategy to prevent women from accessing influential jobs and power.”
Vérane Frédiani, whose film The Goddesses of Food explores this theme, traces discrimination to the 1970s when superstar chef Paul Bocuse began promoting French gastronomy internationally and refused to acknowledge or include female chefs. Now things are changing and, thanks to groundwork by pioneering female chefs like Adeline Grattard and Hélène Darroze, more women are striking out on their own.
In creating Nosso (22 Promenade Claude Lévi-Strauss), which means “ours” in Portuguese, Alessandra Montagne designed a collaborative enterprise where bonhomie is the star ingredient. While the Brazilian chef’s cooking is the draw, adherence to zero-waste and partnerships with small, local suppliers (practices honed at her former restaurant, Tempero) has positioned Montagne as a culinary darling. Ingredients are used in their entirety: apple cores become a compote; leek leaves are blended into mousse; fish parts become stock. And the food? From the initial bite of comté-flecked pao de queijo through to slow-cooked miso-marinated cod and a lively quince and radish bedecked scallop carpaccio, Montagne’s passion for ingredients sings. Ruba Khoury spent nine years cooking at hot spots like Frenchie and Septime before opening Dirty Lemon (24 Rue de la Folie Méricourt), a cocktail bar for women.
“Queer bars are historically gritty. I wanted mine to be stylish (no rainbow flag!) and safe for the LGBTQ+ community,” she explains. And chic it is. Marble columns, burnt orange furnishings, touches of rose gold and leather that read feminine but not girly. Whimsically named, vegetal-leaning drinks (Girl Next Door has gin, aquavit, fennel, apple, celery and basil; Hot Mama blends mezcal, beet juice and thyme) are complemented by Mediterranean small plates – think deviled eggs with hummus, whole roast cauliflower with smoked yogurt, and dirty fries smothered in lamb confit.
Combat (63 Rue de Belleville) is an award-winning cocktail bar known for daring tipples like Impecapre, which blends caper-infused tequila with walnut liquor, vermouth and gentian. But when Margot Lecarpentier tried to line up loans and suppliers back in 2017, she was rejected by male-run banks and dismissed by suppliers. Her new venture, Capitale (10 Rue Pradier) offers all-day dining and inventive (mostly) non-alcoholic libations. Salvaged furniture and mix-and-match crockery is the cool kid backdrop for small plates like ham and cheese stuffed croissandwich, labneh with poached pears and candied dates, and pastrami accompanied by pickles and cornbread. As for drinks, try roast chicory root tea or Green Opium, a mocktail of virgin vermouth, coffee, fig leaf syrup, orange blossom and verjus.