Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- A Venezuelan chef who provides opportunities for disadvantaged women through projects that center on chocolate and the cocoa bean was today named the first winner of a new 100,000 euro ($110,000) culinary prize. 

Maria Fernanda di Giacobbe has built a system of education, entrepreneurship and economic development around cacao, supporting producers and enabling women to create their own businesses making and selling chocolate.

"We all eat chocolate and it is a luxury ingredient that is created by people from working families," said chef Heston Blumenthal, a member of the prize jury. "She is sending a big message of awareness of that connection between gastronomy and ordinary people."

The jury for the Basque Culinary World Prize included several top chefs, including all the recent winners of the World's 50 Best Restaurants  award: Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana; Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca; Rene Redzepi of Noma; Ferran Adrià of El Bulli; and Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck. The prize committee was headed by Elena Arzak of Arzak.

The prize was organized by the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian and the Basque Government to recognize the chef who has done the most to improve society through gastronomy. The prize money goes to a project of the winner's choice.

Di Giacobbe helps local producers to improve their crops and export to chocolatiers around the world through the Bean to Bar movement. She has also founded a Cacao Industry Management program in collaboration with Simon Bolivar University, from which 1,500 people have graduated, 94% of them women.

Projects shortlisted for the prize focused on everything from innovation to education, health, research, sustainability, social entrepreneurship and philanthropy, and preserving local cultures. 

Richard Vines is chief food critic at Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines and Instagram @richard.vines  

To contact the author of this story: Richard Vines in London at rvines@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Timothy Coulter at tcoulter@bloomberg.net.

©2016 Bloomberg L.P.

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