Book review: The Female Chef by Clare Finney and Liz Seabrook

15 March 2022 by
Book review: The Female Chef by Clare Finney and Liz Seabrook

Stories and recipes from 31 women redefining the British food scene

Rather than a traditional recipe book, The Female Chef is a form of recipe journalism combined with vintage-washed photography that delivers its front-cover promise: "Stories and recipes from 31 women redefining the British food scene".

Food journalist Clare Finney's debut book is a series of intimate profiles celebrating the creativity and diversity of today's leading female chefs, including Erchen Chang, co-founder and head chef of London's Bao restaurants; Asma Khan, chef-owner of Darjeeling Express in Covent Garden; and Julie Lin, chef-owner of Julie's Kopitiam in Glasgow.

In her foreword, Finney reveals her rationale for the shortlisting process: "I did my best to bypass the more ‘male' metrics of success – fame, money and Michelin stars – and instead interviewed the changemakers: the women transforming kitchen culture, campaigning for more diverse representation, infiltrating previously male-dominated areas or introducing new techniques and cuisines." The result is a carefully crafted collection of passionate, personal and pioneering stories, dipping into themes of heritage, influence and identity along the way.

Each female chef also introduces her own recipe with a justification that can be as simple as, "This recipe is my favourite thing to eat" (Moore's Thai noodle soup) or as nostalgic as, "This recipe is inspired by my experience in Jamestown, Accra" (Zoe Adjonyoh's Jamestown grilled prawns).

Where this approach perhaps falters is that the individuals behind the food become so pronounced that the dishes have to compete with them for our attention.

To prove a point, Ravinder Bhogal does not have a recipe to share.

Even The Female Chef's sometimes skewed emphases are a result of a much-needed restructuring of our attitudes towards the place and identity of women in the kitchen. The depth, breadth and personality of this book is really quite remarkable.

The Female Chef by Clare Finney and Liz Seabrook (Hoxton Mini Press, £28)

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