Maria Canabal, president of Parabere Forum is on a mission to raise awareness about women in the food and wine business. She tells me that the definition of success for women is different to that for a man. “That was also the conclusion of last year’s forum. A women’s career and definition of success is not measured by whether she has three stars. Success is not the same as for a man,” Ms Canabal says.
The Forum will meet in Bari next month, on 6th and 7th March to discuss and showcase women in the food and wine world. The theme for this year’s forum, the second edition, is entrepreneurship. “We believe that there are three ingredients to empower women: training, mentorship and role-models. This year, we are bringing influential women who are extremely successful in the field to inspire women,” Ms Canabal tells Food and Wine Gazette.
Unfortunately, the top of the gastronomy world still remains ‘a bit of a boy’s club’.
She does not mince her words when it comes to Michelin and last week’s new awards in France. “It is incredible that in the whole of France, they could not find one new woman who deserved a Michelin star. It is a scandal. Michelin is no longer credible. It is not possible that there is not even one woman who is worthy of a Michelin star,” Ms Canabal says.
She adds that Michelin has great influence and they should also help to create role models and promote diversity where possible. I cannot but nod in agreement.
I ask her whether it was difficult to organise such an event given that most events in the field are dominated by men. “It wasn’t difficult at all,” Ms Canabal says. “We have a database of 5000 women, from chefs to sommeliers, producers to entrepreneurs who are all extremely successful in what they do. It is open to anyone who wants to use it,” she says.
The aim of Parabere Forum is to bring together leaders from all over the world – women and men – representing the government, academic circles and culture in order to give a new perspective to key issues on food. Parabere Forum wants to create a powerful, global network in order to strengthen the influence of women in the food sector. Parabere Forum also wants to draw up innovative action plans and debates to encourage women’s contribution in the food sector and promote diversity in gastronomy.
Ms Canabal tells me that in an ideal world, Parabere Forum would not need to exist. “My dream would be to have no need for Parabere Forum in 10 years time. It should cease to exist. Unfortunately, this will not happen. Gender equality still does not exist in all walks of life and there is still a long way to go.”
For the past 15 years, there have been global conferences featuring chefs across the world. “It is great because we are sharing stories and experiences about food and wine. But it is true that when you look at the participants it is mainly men. There is a great imbalance,” the President of Parabere Forum tells Food and Wine Gazette.
I ask why this is the case given that the forum, within its year of existence, already has 5,000 women in its database. “Unfortunately, you need to have a certain interest to promote women. It is easier to invite people who are in guides or lists and these are mostly men,” she says.
“At the end of the day it is a question of curation. A curator could say that half of participants in a conference could be men and the other half could be women.”
She tells me that Parabere Forum still struggles to organise its event (now in its second edition) because sponsors have not yet understood why women are important in the field and why it is necessary to promote their cause.
But there are some who are starting to slowly understand the value of women in business and also in restaurants. “Massimo Bottura and his wife Lara Gilmore will explain why they will start to have more and more women in the kitchen at Osteria Francescana.” They will be interviewed in Bari by Australian journalist Joanna Savill. The session is called “the women in my life and Bottura will explain why he has come to realise the importance of women in his kitchen.”
“Every study shows that having more balance in a business makes it more possible. Even in the kitchen, you need to find a certain equilibrium,” Ms Canabal says.
She tells me that there are more successful women in the United States than in Europe though when it comes to equality Nordic states also fare very well.
This year’s forum on entrepreneurship touches upon many topics. The Sunday session includes sessions on how female food producers deal with barriers to success, networking, and women feed the world, not corporations. This latter topic will be presented by Dr Vandana Shiva.
On Monday, Emanuela Stucchi-Prinetti will speak about sensitive conservation in Chianti, Tina Hahnemann focuses on the love of everyday food and how to build a business around it. Dominique Loiseau will present ‘The Rebound’ while Barbara Lynch speaks about past, present and future and the evolution of a restaurateur. There will also be discussions on how to lead a team (Dominique Crenn and Zahie Tellez) and a debate on the current refugee crisis and how the food world can make a difference.