Well ahead of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants awards revealing its 2020 rankings, the stage had been set to be the year of the female chef. First up was Janaina Rueda of Bar de Dona Onça and A Casa do Porco in São Paulo, who picked up the Icon award; the much-coveted Chefs’ Chef prize went to Leo Espinosa of Restaurante LEO in Bogotá; Narda Lepes of Narda Comedor in Buenos Aires was anointed Best Female Chef by her colleagues; while Sofía Cortina has been named Latin America's Best Pastry Chef 2020.
A handful of women are already on Latin America’s fine-dining map, such as Pía León of Kjolle in Lima, Carolina Bazán of Ambrosía in Santiago, Elena Reygadas of Rosetta in Mexico City, and Brazilians Roberta Sudbrack of Sud in Rio de Janeiro, Manoella Buffara of Manu in Curitiba and Helena Rizzo of Maní in São Paulo.
Here, Fine Dining Lovers introduces other notable female chefs in restaurants around Latin America:
María Elena Marfetán
Given that María Elena Marfetán started helping her mother prep salads for La Balconada restaurant run out of the family home at the tender age of eight, her culinary destiny was written in the stars. Being raised in the Uruguayan beach town of La Paloma also played its part, according to María Elena: “It forged my link with the sea and Rocha’s coastal lakes, which are a family passion.” For the past 20 years she has worked at Lo de Tere in Punta del Este, a fantastic establishment overlooking the harbour that reasserts the pleasures of fresh seafood in one of the world’s key beef-producing-and-consuming countries. Besides collaborating with the Uruguayan Gastronomy Association to organise five editions of Aquí se pesca aquí se cocina (We Fish Here, We Cook Here), in 2019, María Elena set up the Este Ocean Pact to promote a return to traditional and sustainable fishing practices, improving fish stocks and encouraging healthier eating habits.
Bolivian chef Marsia Taha has formed part of the Gustu team since Claus Meyer opened the restaurant in 2013, and today runs the show as head chef. The timing was just right; after working in prestigious European kitchens, Marsia returned to La Paz just as Gustu – which exclusively works with native Bolivian products – was set to open. A passionate chef who scours the heights of her homeland for ingredients and producers, at Gustu she fuses her culinary passion with the objective of making Bolivian gastronomy a socio-economic engine of progress. Marsia is also a member of Sabores Silvestres, which brings together cooks and scientists to conserve Bolivian culinary knowhow and flavours. Her work has also been noted in academic circles; in 2019 Marsia gave a talk titled ‘Exploring Heat Transfer’ in Bolivian Haute Cuisine at Harvard University.
Other Bolivian chefs to watch include Camila Lechín of Jardín de Asia and food stylist and former Astrid & Gastón alumnus Maria Paula Baldiviezo, both in Santa Cruz, and Paola González of Ali Pacha in La Paz.
After many years living in southeast Asia, Francesca Ferreyros returned to her native Lima to lead the acclaimed IK. Despite the pandemic slowing down her pace, Francesca opened her first project in a temporary space in July. Baan, which means ‘house’ in Thai, takes inspiration from southeast Asian cuisines, and star dishes include Pesca Thai, a whole fish served in a green curry sauce. And for all the adversity that 2020 has served up, the year has panned out well for Francesca, as she has opened Baan’s fixed abode in the San Isidro neighbourhood this month.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Puquio Landeo represented Latin America in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef final in 2018. She was anointed the People’s Choice, an award she says has opened up many doors for her. While currently based out of Santiago in Chile at Cuerovaca, she was due to take up a position at El Palacio de Cibeles in Madrid: “Given that Latin American cuisine has a very particular style, I am looking forward to working in Europe to continue learning and one day to show everything I know at my own establishment,” she says.
Other Peruvians to watch out for include Camila Unzueta, former sous chef at Kjolle who is set to launch her own project soon, Cinzia Repetto, who helms two branches of El Bodegón, Astrid Acuña, head chef at plant-based restaurant Mudra in Buenos Aires, and Josefina Rimachi of Chuncho in the Sacred Valley’s Ollantaytambo.
Before leading the team at Tegui for five years, multi-talented Mercedes Solís racked up experience at an array of notable kitchens including Noma, Lux in Stockholm and Olsen in Madrid. A pastry chef who rose to sous chef at the latter, Mercedes returned to Buenos Aires after two years abroad to help chef-patron Germán Martitegui open his flagship restaurant Tegui. An active board member of Feria Masticar, curating the market as well as giving live cooking demonstrations, two years ago Mercedes changed tack to work with Lele Cristobal of Café San Juan, and is key to the San Telmo restaurant’s gastronomic workshop team.
Fortunately for the palates of porteño diners, Ana Irie bowed out of a biochemistry degree in the fourth year to study culinary arts. The sansei (third-generation) Japanese-Argentine, raised in the province of Corrientes, has been head pastry chef at Chila, the Relais & Châteaux establishment in the Puerto Madero neighbourhood, since 2006 and is tireless in her pursuit of bringing her two cultures together. Scholarships to visit Akita and Yokohama have allowed her to perfect her craft, adding wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionery) to a patisserie repertoire that includes an architecturally stunning matcha box with matcha ganache, yoghurt mousse and cryogenic strawberry pearls.
Yamila Di Rienzo’s illustrious CV meant she was a shoo-in to form part of the launch team at Alo’s, a restaurant in the Greater Buenos Aires suburb of San Isidro, in 2013. While her first stage was at porteño restaurant Freud & Fahler, pastures new were soon calling her, and Yamila worked at Susina, Magendi and Malbec in New York for several years. Alo’s was only ever meant to be a stop-gap, but seven years later the pastry chef is known for her delectable desserts such as chocolate, mandarine and olive oil sponge and an all-hands-on-deck philosophy; one day she might be managing the till and the next, in wine service. “I’m always ready to do whatever needs to be done,” she says.
Other notable Argentines include Antonella Ferreri of Aramburu, Sol Peretti of Julia Restaurante, Julieta Caruso of Casa Cavia, lady asadora Patricia Ramos at Nuestro Secreto Four Seasons steakhouse, all in Buenos Aires, and Alina Ruiz of Anna in Chaco province and pastry chef Inés Blondel at Gapasai in Córdoba province.
After training in Mexico at the Centro Culinario Ambrosía, Pía Salazar returned to her native Ecuador to become head pastry chef at Astrid & Gastón in Quito, later working with Astrid Gutsche in Lima for a spell. Today, Pía co-runs the wonderful fine-dining establishment Nuema (named after her three children with chef and husband Alejandro Chamorro) located in downtown Quito, crafting outstanding dessert-defying architecture with strictly Ecuadorian ingredients. Nuema entered the Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants 2020 rankings at number 48, and becomes the first restaurant in Ecuador ever to make the list.
Other up-and-coming Ecuadorian female chefs include Isabella Chiriboga, who opened Pez Bela cevichería and oyster bar this year.
Named Latin America's Best Pastry Chef 2020 by Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants, Mexico City's Sofía Cortina has already made waves even though she needed to postpone launching La Vitrine in a fixed abode until 2021. Notching up several years working at World’s 50 Bester Pujol as well as with notable pastry chefs around Europe, Sofía flew solo to open her first French/Mexican-inspired patisserie project from a temporary base earlier this year. Sure to be fixtures in the coming permanent home, she takes seasonal local ingredients such as mamey and sapote and incorporates them into classic French patisserie to create a delightful fusion of French-Mexican sweets.
Other Mexican female chefs include former S.Pellegrino Young Chef competitor Gabriela Ruíz of Carmela y Sal in CDMX, and former Top Chef México competitor Andrea Martínez of Casa Liebre in Parras de la Fuente, Monterrey.
Other worthy mentions around Latin America include Paraguayan Sofía Pfannal of Pakuri in Asunción; Chilean Camila Moreno Barros of Gastronomía Social Foundation; Pilar Rodríguez of Viu Manent in Colchagua Valley, Chile; and Lis Ra of Na Num in Buenos Aires, Argentina.