The culinary world is famously dominated by men but this year two women made history when they were awarded Michelin stars for their work. Karime López became the first chef from Mexico to be awarded a Michelin star while Mariya Russell became the first Black woman to receive a Michelin star. They both grew up eating cuisine that’s very different than what they currently work in which is Italian and Japanese, respectively.
The Michelin star is a coveted recognition for restaurants as it is considered to be a hallmark of fine dining and it’s known to be extremely difficult to obtain making it that much more prestigious. López is the head chef at Gucci Osteria in Florence, Italy, owned by famous Italian restaurateur Massimo Bottura who also owns Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-star restaurant based in Modena, Italy. López was also the only woman in the Italian entries to be awarded a star this year.
“I am so happy for the entire team at Gucci Osteria . . . this award is a tribute to them and we are thrilled that our passion and commitment have been recognized in this prestigious guide,” López was quoted in the restaurant’s Instagram post. “I will continue to challenge myself and to create new experiences for our guests and I am excited for what the next year will bring.”
López is a native of Querétaro in central Mexico and has worked in several kitchens around the world before working for Gucci Oteria’s pop-up restaurant in Singapore until May of this year. During her time there she discovered a love of dan dan noodles, a dish with spicy sesame paste sauce and minced pork that reminded her of encacahuatado, a traditional Mexican dish of chicken in a spicy sauce with guajillo chilies, chipotle chilies, and peanuts, she shared with the Michelin Guide.
López, 36, shared with the publication that one of the ways she incorporates Mexican flavors into the Italian food she cooks now is through tostadas.
“One of the biggest ways is through having tostadas on the menu at Gucci Osteria. Italians also use a lot of corn in their cuisine. It is interesting how different cultures develop different products from the same ingredients,” she said. “Take corn as an example. Corn tostada is big in Mexico, polenta is common in Italy, while talo is popular in the Basque Country.”
In the U.S., specifically Chicago, Mariya Russell is chef de cuisine at Kumiko and Kikkō, the former a cocktail bar and the latter a counter-dining experience (omakase) centered around Japanese cuisine. With Russell in charge, she lead the team to receive its first Michelin star for their expert use of not only Japanese flavors but also their technique.
She grew up eating soul food and Midwestern dishes including fried chicken and mashed potatoes and though Japanese cuisine is quite a leap from those American staples, her understanding of flavors is what made her stand out.
She shared with Michelin guide that one of her favorite ingredients is shiokoji, a fermented liquid made from koji, the mold used in the development of sake. “[At Kikkō] I use it on the Ōra King salmon sashimi with togarashi and puffed skin,” she said of the sweet and salty mixture.
As for being the first black woman to receive a Michelin star, she commented about the importance of representation not just in the culinary world but in all industries.
“Thinking about [being] the only Black woman doing this is really, still very much so, blowing my mind. Representation is really important in all kinds of things, but in an industry like this, I think it’s really cool. It’s not an easy industry to work in, so I understand why people don’t do it, but to be recognized for my hard work, but on top of that also being a Black woman is really cool,” she shared. “I’m very grateful for my journey. It hasn’t been very easy — at all — but I’m really grateful for all the people that have crossed my path and taught me something.”