Parabere Forum is a platform for women working in the world of gastronomy. It is the brainchild of visionary Maria Canabal, a journalist, lawyer and author, who recognised that women in gastronomy were not doing as well as their male counterparts: working hard but invisible, rarely good enough to make it to top positions. Maria decided to change the conversation, to shine a spotlight on women working in our industry, to help advance gender equality by improving ‘gastronomy with women’s vision’.

Each year for the last five years, Parabere Forum has brought together many women and a handful of men from around the world. These delegates share their diverse culinary and life experiences, their challenges and successes, and their unique visions that help improve the gastronomic world on a daily basis. The event includes talks and presentations, food and drinks workshops and, of course, culinary evenings featuring the host country’s contemporary adaptions of indigenous culinary heritage. Culinary delights included pig’s blood pancakes, reindeer heart, sour cream and globe artichoke crisps , duck broth, smoked cod and creamy mash, Eritrean dishes of lentils, beets, and cabbage; Soldhoi cider and more.

This year, Maria Canabal cast her net far and wide, representatives from 32 countries gathered in Oslo to attend Parabere Forum, reflecting her commitment to seeking out, and providing a platform for a diverse range of women’s voices throughout the gastronomic world.

I now know a little about Norwegian Ellen Sarah Sparrow, the reindeer herder, a unique and fascinating woman, a pioneering woman among many male reindeer herders. I was moved by Australia chef Kylie Kwong’s ability to interweave her personal challenges and professional successes into a life story of authenticity and integrity, never afraid to change course or try something new. Irishman Colin Harmon tackled Toxic Masculinity with a reassuring degree of understanding and honesty. It was a delight to hear how Alice Quillet & Anna Trattles struggled and eventually succeeded in overcoming Parisians’ perception of ‘la boulangerie’ with their all-female innovative bakery Ten Belles. We heard a wonderful transformative life story of a powerless Syrian refugee woman who found renewed power in her ability to work as a chef and build a life for herself and her family in her new country.

Internationally famous chefs Alice Water, Dominique Creen and Andoni Luis Aduriz chatted about their visions and experiences. I have the vague memory of a suggestion by one chef that attempts are afoot to improving gender representation on some chef competition panels! Can you imagine that!!

The 5-minute ‘quick fire’ presentations gave a snapshot of an array of projects that women are working on all over the world: a cheese story from Ursula of Germany, alternative culinary education in Ireland from Janine, and so much more. During our lunch and evening culinary adventures I met women chefs who cited an array of different challenges that they encounter in the profession, many different perspectives from different life experiences. I was aghast when I heard that a ‘Ladies menu’ still exists in some of our finest eateries, where prices feature only on the man’s menu! Apparently, the archaic assumption that ‘the man pays’ appears to hold social importance in certain circles in our contemporary world!

This year Maria launched a collection of 100 essays featuring women leaders, including 5 Irish women, in international gastronomy. Each essay gives each woman’s unique vision of her hopes for the future of the gastronomic world, and they are all worth reading.

It is true that we face serious challenges in addressing gender inequality and advances are painfully slow. It is also true that race and class, society and culture, intersect in complicated ways with women in the professional gastronomic world to compound gender inequality. However, it is also true that Maria Canabal and Parabere Forum help point us in the right. I am remined of Hannah Arendt and the power of storytelling, our stories are complicated and diverse, they are stories worth telling and shouting about, they help us understand challenges and offer possibilities. They inspire and empower us in different ways. ParabereForum does this with passion, style and enjoyment, it was a pleasure and an inspiration as always.

thank you, Maria and all your team,

Mary Farrell