It's fair to say that Australia is far from gender parity in the top cheffing and restaurant ownership positions, but can we dare to hope that the genie is out of the bottle and we are beginning to see some results?
What we can say is that Australia gained some stellar new hatted restaurants in 2019 thanks to the women on the pans, the pours or with their names over the doors. And it feels like the momentum is only building.
In Victoria, Etta, helmed by Hannah Green, attained a hat in the first year the sommelier-owner took full control of her wine-diner in Brunswick East, buying out her business partners in April. Fitzroy's Napier Quarter was another one-hat debutant, thanks to the beautifully restrained cooking (and the anchovy and boiled egg rye toast) of head chef Eileen Horsnell, who for the past few years was playing a fine dining hand at Lume in South Melbourne.
Sydney's 10 William Street ushered in a new hatted era under chef Trisha Greentree, and the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef winner was Anna Ugarte-Carral of Momofuku Seiobo, who took the crown by the unanimous vote of the judging panel.
Another big winner was Brisbane's Joy, led by chef-owner Sarah Scott and husband Tim, with their tiny 10-seater taking out the coveted New Restaurant of the Year award.
Chef Federica Andrisani, who shares the cheffing role with partner Oskar Rossi at Fico, one of Hobart's biggest rising stars, climbed from one chef's hats to two while the service of Katie McCormack at Victoria's Congress Wine Bar (one hat), Mallory Wall at Di Stasio Citta (two hats) and Joanna Smith (Citi Service Excellence Award winner) at Igni in Geelong played a huge role in sealing those deals.
On the one hand, it's great news. There's much to celebrate if you're a diner who wants to spend your dollars where women are killing it. The above are just this year's new inductees to the hatted ranks. You can add to that list of chefs Karena Armstrong, the green-thumbed chef of McLaren Vale's The Salopian Inn (one hat), Katrina Ryan and Sarah Hockings of Brisbane's young gun pan-Asian Golden Pig (one hat), Melissa Palinkas of potent nose-to-tail restaurant Young George (one hat) in Perth, and Alanna Sapwell, whose restaurant Arc Dining (one hat) at Howard Smith Wharves was also a New Restaurant of the Year nominee.
We're not finished. That doesn't take into account the chefs who retained their hats in 2019: Natasha Burnett, who has kept Marion as a bastion of wine dining on Gertrude Street for two years, Zoe Birch and Jo Barrett whose closed loop cheffing at 14-seat Greasy Zoes and sustainable winery Oakridge in Victoria respectively are true examples of the form.
There's chef O Tama Carey, who has set Sydney ablaze at Lankan Filling Station; Amy Hamilton who works sustainable delicious magic at Liberte in WA and Thi Le whose elegantly pitched Vietnamese cooking at Anchovy was a keeper straight out of the gate when she opened in 2015.
And then there's Lindsay Durr of wildly creative The d'Arenberg Cube in SA, Jacqui Challinor of Nomad in Sydney and Alexandra Haynes of Lalla Rookh.
Holding two hats are Danielle Alvarez of Fred's in Sydney, Sarah Knight of Automata and Analiese Gregory, the abalone-diving, cheese-making chef of Franklin in Hobart.
If this were your Australian dining wishlist for 2020, you would be in for a sensational time. But are we there yet? Not quite. These 23 restaurants led by women are among 260 hatted restaurants around the country. And while almost nine per cent is an improvement on former figures, there's a way to go.
It's telling that a number of hat-holding restaurants led by women are owner-operated, indicating that one of the surest ways to land the top job and to begin being recognised is for women to start their own restaurant. That is at a huge personal financial risk, but it does irrefutably demonstrate their ability to lead award-winning kitchens, given the chance.
Myffy Rigby, Good Food Guide editor and one of the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef award judges, backs up the notion that when opportunities are presented, women in the industry are knocking it out of the park.
"In the past three years, we've not only seen the number of women applicants for the JP award increase, but also the number of women winning," Rigby says. "Since 2016, we've seen Lauren Eldridge, Kylie Millar, Jodie Odrowaz and now Anna Ugarte-Carral take home the prize with their incredible passion and professionalism."
So what does the industry need to level up? If the 2020 Guide is anything to go by, it's just a matter of opening the floodgates and letting the talent run through.
The women-led Good Food Guide wishlist:
Alanna Sapwell, Arc Dining, QLD
Alexandra Haynes, Lalla Rookh, WA
Amy Hamilton, Liberte, WA
Eileen Horsnell, Napier Quarter, VIC
Jacqui Challinor, Nomad, NSW
Jo Barrett, Oakridge, VIC
Karena Armstrong, Salopian Inn, SA
Katrina Ryan, Sarah Hockings, Golden Pig. QLD
Lindsay Durr, D'arenberg Cube, SA
Melissa Palinkas, Young George, WA
Natasha Burnett, Marion, VIC
O Tama Carey, Lankan Filling Station, NSW
Pam Talimanidis, Ipsos, VIC
Sarah Scott, Joy, QLD. New Restaurant of the Year
Thi Le, Anchovy, VIC
Trish Greentree,10 William Street, NSW
Zoe Birch, Greasy Zoes, VIC
Analeise Gregory, Franklin, TAS
Danielle Alvarez, Fred's, NSW
Federica Andrisani, Fico, TAS
Sarah Knight, Automata, NSW
Anna Ugarte-Carral, Momofuku Seiobo, NSW (Josephine Pignolet Young Chef winner)
The Good Food Guide 2020 is on sale in newsagencies and bookstores and is also available at thestore.com.au/gfg20, $29.99 with free shipping.