The World's Most Elite Female Chefs Reveal What It's Really Like to Have Three Michelin Stars

There are only seven women in Michelin's history to hold its coveted three-star rating—here, two of them fill you in.

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Sienna Miller's character in Burnt underscores something we wish more people knew: that women can be serious bosses in the kitchen. Chefs Elena Arzak and Clare Smyth are the real deal—they each hold three Michelin stars, putting them in a league with just five other women (Anne-Sophie Pic, Carme Ruscalleda, Nadia Santini, Annie Feolde and the late Eugénie Brazier) in the entire *history* of the brand's famous guide. Here's what got them to where they are now.

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Chef Elena Arzak

Restaurant: Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain

Chef Elena Arzak starting working at her family's eponymous restaurant when she was in grade school. Her training continued under some of the world's most talented chefs: Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV in France, Albert Roux at Le Gavroche in London, and Ferran Adrìa at elBulli in Catalonia, Spain. Her restaurant earned its third Michelin star in 1989. This year, Arzak received the Culinary Institute of America's Augie Award, which honors extraordinarily talented female chefs.

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When did you know you wanted to become a chef?

"I was a child of gastronomy. My father, my grandmother and my aunt all worked in the restaurant. Starting at 11, I used to come with my sister for two hours a day during summer holidays to be with family, [and we would] help clean squid, chop herbs, make chocolate truffles–learning little by little. I always wanted to be a chef, but I think I started to seriously think about it when I was 16."

Pictured here: Bogavante "mar y huerta" at Arzak.

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José López
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Who's your biggest role model?

"My father and my grandmother. I always saw how nicely they worked, as well as their values in the kitchen and their values about the food. It set a very good example for my profession and for my life."

Pictured here: The interior of Arzak.

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How does it feel to hold one of the industry's highest honors?

"When I came back to San Sebastian, the Michelin stars were already awarded to Arzak. So I did not win them, but I did maintain them, and I'm very lucky to work with my father to do that. Last year, we celebrated our 25th anniversary of holding three Michelin stars. We invited everyone involved, because over the years, it's taken many people making a lot of effort to maintain the three Michelin stars. It was very special, and we are very proud."

Pictured here: Chef Arzak with her father.

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As a woman, what has your experience been like in a predominantly male world?

"In Basque society, this is normal. Here, the woman is very strong. At Arzak, 80% of the staff are women. But I know that it's not like that all over. I wish other women would experience that, too. It's true that today there are very few women in high gastronomy, but I think this is going to change. There are more women in culinary schools now than there were before. I am sure that there will be more women chefs."

Pictured here: Trufon de Chocolate copia at Arzak.

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José López
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What are your goals for the future?

"I like this type of gastronomy—this creative, Basque, evolving cuisine. I like to cook in a modern and sustainable way. I want to continue to cook this way, and of course, to be able to move with the times. In the future, I'd like to be able to maintain all the values I have now with my father. I like what we do."

Pictured here: The exterior of Arzak.

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Courtesy of Clare Smyth
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Chef Patron Clare Smyth

Restaurant: Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London

A Northern Irish-born chef, Clare Smyth started out at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in 2002, before going on to stage (industry-speak for apprentice) in the renowned kitchens of The French Laundry in California and Per Se in New York. When she was 29, chef Smyth became the first British female to be awarded three Michelin stars when she returned to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay as head chef. She has also been named "National Chef of the Year" and received a perfect score from the British reviewer Good Food Guide.

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Courtesy of Clare Smyth
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How does it feel to be in this elite league of women with three Michelin stars?

"I took over Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in 2007 when it had three stars and have retained them ever since. It was nerve-wracking at first to hold three stars at 29 years old. It was quite a daunting experience—although I had all the training, I still had to prove I was good enough. I then learned how to control the machine and made the role my own. It's fantastic to be one of a few women to be holders of three Michelin stars. You become a role model for others when you hit the top of your profession, and you set the benchmark for others to follow."

Pictured here: The exterior of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

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One of Chef Clare Smyth's favorite dishes: Fillet of sea bass with shellfish and sea vegetable minestrone, fennel and lovage.
Courtesy of Clare Smyth
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What's your favorite dish to cook?

"I love creating new dishes so I don't have a favorite per se. I really look forward to cooking with seasonal produce. My favorite thing to cook is what nature provides me with."

Pictured here: Chef Smyth's fillet of sea bass with shellfish and sea vegetable minestrone, fennel and lovage.

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Courtesy of Clare Smyth
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Who's your biggest inspiration?

"I have three role models. Gordon Ramsay for his incredible drive and determination. Alain Ducasse, for his philosophy and respect for produce. Thomas Keller for his respect for people and produce and being a humble chef. All three bring great light to the industry."

Pictured here: The interior of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay.

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Courtesy of Clare Smyth
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What else do you hope to achieve?

"I'm launching my own solo venture next year and hope to start a new chapter. I've gotten this far and now I have to keep evolving and doing new things and taking on new challenges, not resting on the successes that I've already made."

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