'It's stone-age' - Irish Restaurant Awards receive backlash for instating all male judging panel
The Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) has been criticised for its failure to promote gender equality in the food industry, after instating an all-male panel for its annual Restaurant Awards.
On Wednesday, the RAI announced that a team of six male chefs will prepare dinner for the 900 guests set to attend the Irish Restaurant Awards on May 8, and the body has been criticised for its failure to support female chefs in the industry.
Responding to the criticism, the RAI released a statement which said the selection process is based on regional winners of the 'Best Chef' category from 2016, and said there was a lack of female winners to choose from.
However, chef Hilary O'Hagan Brennan has criticised the RAI's decision and said the all-male panel is "stone-age" and "unacceptable".
O'Hagan Brennan is the co-founder of Athru, an Irish movement striving for gender equality and female empowerment in the food industry.
Speaking to Independent.ie, O'Hagan Brennan said:"The RAI's response is a completely unacceptable rhetoric. They are responsible for choosing the regional winners and they are responsible for not choosing women and failing to give them a chance.
"The RAI are accountable for promoting gender balance and equality and this panel is not a fair reflection of the talent in this industry, in fact it is only reflective of 50pc of it," she said.
The chef, whose inaugural symposium in Galway attracted more than 250 attendees, said the RAI's decision has taken the issue of gender equality in the industry backwards after recent progress.
"We set up Athru last year, after the Young Chef of the Year Awards had an all male judging panel.
"We felt like Twitter was the wrong place for this argument and we actually decided to develop it into an event. Our first symposium was held last summer and more than 250 people attended.
"Since then we have canvassed for equality to put Ireland's female chefs on the map, to give them the limelight, to empower young women to get into this industry. We are really proud of what we have done and we thought we were making progress. The RAI's male panel makes it feel as though we've taken ten steps backwards."
In a statement released this afternoon, the RAI said the selection process for the Irish Restaurant Awards has been the same since 2008, and explained the process behind the panel selection.
"The Irish Restaurant Awards 2017 Chef team is selected based on those who were regional Best Chef category winners in 2016 for Ulster, Connaught, Leinster, Munster and Dublin," the organisation said in a statement.
"This has been the selection process for the past nine years of the Irish Restaurant Awards. If a regional winner is unable to partake in the Chef team, a county winner in the Best Chef category of that region is asked to be part of the Chef team.
"There were no female winners in some regions and in the region where there was a female winner, unfortunately she had to pull out of the team in the past four weeks."
Chef O'Hagan-Brennan confirmed that the RAI have been in contact with Athru to discuss the issues raised following the panel announcement but said its not a difficult thing to promote equality.
"They have been in contact with us to meet with them to discuss this issue, but what are they going to listen to us say? To be honest it's not that hard.
"It's not rocket science. Just put the candidates forward, give women that chance. It's not difficult. Yesterday's decision is disappointing, it's really stone-age."