World's 50 Best Restaurants List May Soon Be More Diverse
This year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards stared down the barrel of change. Following 2018’s awards ceremony in Bilbao, Hélène Petrini, director of the World’s 50 Best, penned an article on the organization’s official website titled, “Time for change: why 50 Best is committed to a more inclusive restaurant industry.”
She wrote, “Beyond gender, 50 Best aspires to highlight and celebrate a culturally and ethnically diverse mix of restaurants and chefs, not only through its activities and lists in Asia and Latin America, but on a global scale too.” A move that's without a doubt fueled, in due part, by ever-present issues surrounding the list such as a shortage of regional representation, the low number of female-run kitchens on the list, as well as the chatter surrounding the controversial Best Female Chef award. The biggest issue yet on the global scale is the presence of sexism in the food and beverage industry, magnified by the #MeToo movement, and the harassment issues that surfaced spotlighting well-known restaurateurs and establishments.
Stepping toward the direction of diversity, the 2019 installment of World’s 50 Best was held in Singapore; the first time in 18 years that the awards commenced in Asia.
It’s no secret that the location of the awards has some influence on the list’s results in the succeeding year: Wherever it’s held becomes a hotbed for gastronomes from all over the world, who fly in not only to see who makes the magical 50, but to eat their way across the city they’re hosted in. Its 2016 program in New York, for instance, allowed Manhattan native Eleven Madison Park to get a little push, hence earning the number one spot in 2017. Holding this year’s ceremony in Asia, coupled with various newly introduced adjustments, certainly beg to shake things up.
For the time, efforts at going beyond just the list were visible across several days at the 50 Best Talks, such as a panel on positive kitchen culture with Roš, Sotto-Ines, Massimo Bottura, Eric Ripert, and Waku Ghin’s Tetsuya Wakuda. Masterclass discussions dipped into the inspiration and techniques of signature dishes by Gaggan Anand, Central’s Virgilio Martínez and Pía León, and Geranium’s Rasmus Kofoed. Nobel Peace Prize nominee José Andrés shared the goings-on of his advocacy on disaster relief, elaborating the efforts made through World Central Kitchen; a not-for-profit, non-government organization founded by Andrés to provide hot meals to calamity-stricken areas around the world.
At the end of the awards, there were two advances to the list’s backend that seemed to keep chefs and food media representatives buzzing. The first was a move in favor of gender parity: A ratio of 50 percent male to 50 percent female participants would be maintained here on out, on the jury consisting of 1,040 voters. The organization carried out this same approach in the 50 Best Talks, with the likes of Garima Arora (Asia’s Best Female Chef 2019), Ana Roš (World’s Best Female Chef 2017), and Daniela Soto-Innes (World’s Best Female Chef 2019) being present figures onstage.
The second big change at this year’s awards was the removal of previously ranked top-runners on the list and their induction into a program called the Best of the Best. It is the organization’s version of a Hall of Fame, consisting of those that have clocked in at number one on the list in years prior. This decision means to give newer, lesser-known talents the opportunity to enter a list that, for several years, has had more of the same jumble of names in one pot. It’s a move that has raised a lot of questions, such as whether forthcoming top spot-holders truly deserve to be called the best restaurant in the world, or if it just happened to fall onto their lap with the absence of the number one restaurants before them.
It’s also speculated that establishing this new program would cushion the blow for chefs at the top spot who have experienced a place-drop in the past. In a think piece by Time, Lisa Abend writes, “But according to a source with knowledge of the process who asked for anonymity because he did not have permission to speak publicly on the subject, the core group that began pressing in earnest for the change last year was driven not only or even primarily by an attempt to unclog the top, but also by an effort to avoid the decline in reputation that some notable chefs have suffered once they fell from first place.”
This drives a point in saying that these chefs are relieved of certain pressures that the list may have been responsible for. In the spirit of competitiveness though, the list somehow loses a bit of its luster, at least where the top spot is concerned; Ferran Adria’s El Bulli was crowned number one not just once, but five times. It’s a feat that definitely influenced Spain’s reputation as a culinary capital. The same can be said for Rene Redzepi’s first Noma iteration, which topped the charts four times, and consequently made Copenhagen a must-visit destination.
All the Best
At the ceremony proper, the list yielded some surprising results. Twelve restaurants were introduced into the 50, two of them being Bangkok-based Sühring, and Hong Kong’s The Chairman.
Three restaurants also re-entered the list, with Noma being re-introduced at a jaw-dropping second spot, just four months following the first anniversary of its reopening.
Spain had the most number of restaurants on the list, which included a reentry (Elkano) and a commendation for Highest Climber, awarded to Azurmendi, which climbed up 29 slots at number 14.
Mexican-run restaurants Cosme, Quintonil, and Pujol were part of the list, with Cosme’s Soto-Innes accepting her Best Female Chef Award, and with Enrique Olvera of Pujol receiving praise for Best Restaurant in North America—a satisfying situation given the current political climate in the U.S., with slurs against Mexicans made by its president.
This year’s top spot was awarded to Mirazur, from Menton in France, which also celebrates the 10th anniversary of its entrance on the list (It was awarded the 35th spot in 2009). Upon being announced as number one, Mauro Colagreco, his wife Julia, and their team stormed the stage bearing four flags stitched together as one. “Argentina is my roots,” Colagreco said, “Brazil is the country that gave me the love of my life, France represents my culinary training, and more than half my team comes from Italy.” In his speech, Colagreco remarked on the power of cuisine, particularly how it manages to cross various borders. Something seen not only in colorful kitchens, but also in its capacity to create lasting impressions.
Regarding the introduction of fresh initiatives, William Drew, group editor of 50 Best, states, “To ensure The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and awards retain their relevance and excitement, we must evolve. Just as with the restaurants themselves, stagnation is the enemy. In 2019 and beyond, the 50 Best organization needs not only to champion excellence, but also to promote humanity, inclusivity and opportunity.”
This year’s World’s 50 Best has seen a lot of changes, yes, from the votes that piece the list together, to the people whose names are on it. But will these changes crop compelling results in the years to come? And will the organization, now close to 20 years in operation, see its platform as something more purposeful in the ever-growing culinary scene?