After two days of calls for the rescue of culinary heritage and a greater female role in traditional cuisine, the last day of the FéminAs congress explored the need to improve working hours in the catering industry and the problem of prices in the primary sector, "preventing people from setting up businesses in villages”.
Some twenty talks at four different locations in the centre and east of Asturias, five special meals at five restaurants with up to 20 chefs and more than 50 professionals operating in the sector, including some "masculine chefs", as the participants at FéminAs referred to their colleagues. An original congress calling for a return to the old recipes and the need to safeguard culinary heritage, listing measures to establish a new rurality and improve the work/life balance in the catering sector, a glass ceiling for many women in the industry.
The first International Congress of Gastronomy, Women and the Rural Milieu came to an end on Wednesday at the Palacio de Rubianes hotel, with a closing address by the president of the Principality of Asturias, Adrián Barbón, who dwelt on the need to move forward on the work of women and thanked the congress for this opportunity, and also by Benjamín Lana, chairman of Vocento's Gastronomy division, who applauded a successful event and announced next year's congress in western Asturias, with the main venue at Cangas del Narcea. That will be FéminAs 2022. FéminAs 2021 finished off with a gala meal-buffet at the hotel's Narbasu restaurant, which, for the first time during the congress, was cooked by four men.
Prior to this, the congress held its third round of talks on the role of female leadership, and on possible measures to help showcase women in the professional world. One of these issues is the need for a work/family balance, "which is beneficial for both mothers and fathers, and can be achieved by rationalising working hours in the catering sector", explained Lucía Freitas (A Tafona*, Santiago de Compostela).
This idea was taken up by chefs Pepa Muñoz (El Quenco de Pepa, Madrid) and Susi Díaz (La Finca*, Elche), at a round table with Sara Gómez (who heads up the Spanish Royal Engineering Academy's "Women and Engineering Project") and Lourdes Plana (president of Spain's Royal Gastronomy Academy), who told the congress that "businesses with a 50% mix of women and men are those that work best”.
Better prices for the primary sector
Three women working in the primary sector voiced their opinions at FéminAs in defence of their professions, their gender, the rural way of life, and environmental concerns. The women were livestock breeder Lucía Velasco, shellfish gatherer Rita Míguez and farmer Eva Sañudo, who set out their arguments and called for a fair price for their work. Otherwise, they said, "it'll be curtains for the primary sector, and then people will be weeping”. Without fair prices, they reminded attendees, "you can't keep people in rural areas. It's the beginning of the chain". Calls were also heard for environmental protection: "We've almost reached the point of no return. Let's take action”.
The last day of the congress also featured Viviana Varese (Viva*, Milan) and Esther Manzano, one half of the Casa Marcial restaurant. The Asturian chef, who also runs the Narbasu restaurant where the congress wound up, spoke out for the rural roots in her cooking, and her insistence from the outset alongside her brother on cooking the local territory, "although at one point, when the elBulli restaurant emerged, we wondered whether we were doing the right thing".
FéminAs 2021 comes to an end
FéminAs, the first International Congress of Gastronomy, Women and the Rural Milieu, organised by Vocento's Gastronomy Division, with the Principality of Asturias acting as institutional promoter, comes to an end with messages, requests, demands and exchanges of opinions among women working in the gastronomy sector worldwide. “It's been a pleasure to see new places and new kitchens, and meet sisters like those we've come into contact with here", said Argentinian Narda Lepes.
Lepes, Latin America's Best Female Chef 2020, was one of the star attractions at a congress responsible for teaming up Asturias' "Guisanderas" Club and the Oaxaca Traditional Female Chefs' Association (which received the "Guardians of Tradition" Award), two sister bodies operating 9,000 km apart, and for bringing together women working as producers, sommeliers, floor managers, entrepreneurs and chefs all over the world. The chefs included Leo Espinosa (Leo, Bogotá, Colombia), one of Latin America's leading lights, who also worked on a dinner organised at the congress.