Like many great ideas, the idea for The World’s 50 Best Restaurant List was born in a pub. Sixteen years and many iterations later, what began as a half-baked idea has evolved into one of the most highly anticipated awards ceremonies in the culinary world, backed by its culinary-minded sponsors like S.Pellegrino, and heralded for supporting the hard work and dedication of chefs. “Believe me, it is not easy to get on this list,” said Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana, the award-winning avant-garde Italian tasting temple that made an appearance on Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. “It takes years of passion, hard work, dedication. And a little bit of insanity as you must devote your life to your craft, your team, and your cuisine.”
This year’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards presented by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna, were announced on June 19th in Bilbao, Spain, included past winners Osteria Francescana (#1, Italy) and El Celler de Can Roca (#2, Spain) and newcomers Disfrutar (#18, Spain) and Odette (#28, Singapore). The end result each year is a sort of culinary traveler’s dream, a bucket list of the most sought-after dining experiences all over the globe. It even inspires some mega-hungry travelers, like Paul Grinberg, a Bay Area resident whose sole mission is to dine at all of the winners in a single year. Here’s how the awards are determined, and why next year’s list may just inform where you plan your next jetsetting vacation. After all, the World’s 50 Best Restaurants mapped out really makes planning out your itinerary a lot easier.
What’s this list really about?
The name does give it away: the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, as named by the tastemakers of the worldwide culinary community. Since its humble beginnings, the list has become a sort of standard for chefs and their restaurants, but more importantly to them, the list and annual award ceremony helped solidify the global community of gastronauts. As the New Yorker noted in 2015: “Because the chefs came, the list mattered, and because the list mattered the chefs came.” Chefs not only love the Awards for their industry acclaim, but also because the annual event has become a place to mingle and network, eat and drink, and celebrate the world’s restaurant community. The parties (and after-parties) have also been legendary. “Seventy percent of all the chefs I admire in the world were there,” said Momofuku chef David Chang.
“The amazing thing about 50 Best, and it transcends the single day of the ceremony, is that it has taken all of these like-minded people and created a community,” said Will Guidara, of Eleven Madison Park, in 2015. “It pushes and motivates and inspires you.” The Awards, and its presenting sponsor S.Pellegrino, are both driven by a strong passion for gastronomy and committed to the support of culinary talent and their hard work.
Who decides who gets on the list?
Restaurants don’t apply to get on the list — and technically, any restaurant in the world is eligible to be nominated to the list. But the voting process is strictly anonymous, and the restaurants carefully vetted. The process by which this prestigious annual list is assembled begins with 26 regional chairs, who are appointed for their knowledge of their part of the restaurant world. In turn, these chairs select 40 independently curated voters in each of their 26 regions. These 40 highly qualified voters include chefs, restaurateurs, food writers, restaurant critics, broadcasters, and world-traveled gourmands, each of whom votes for 10 restaurants (at least four of these must be for restaurants outside their home region). Academy members submit their 10 choices in order of preference; members must have eaten in the restaurants they nominate in the last 18 months and are asked to confirm this fact for each of their nominations.
Voting takes place in January on an online secure site and takes nearly five months to complete. “It’s important to understand that this is not a random list [from] 1000 voters,” said William Drew, group editor of World’s 50 Best Restaurants. “This is vetted and voted upon by some of the most influential names in food. It is a genuinely global, positive force and it gives people a platform to speak about the food world.”
What does it mean for the winners and their restaurants?
While the list is prized by culinary travelers for its comprehensive evaluation of one of the world’s most beloved pastimes (eating), the real impact of a 50 Best Award is the staggering effect it has on a restaurant’s business, a phenomenon dubbed “The 50 Best Effect.” Award winners are given a global stage; a culinary pedestal often translates to an increase in business that’s unprecedented. Hungry travelers are known to swarm the winners: According to Bloomberg, the day after Noma captured the #1 slot, in 2010, 100,000 people tried to book a table. Three years later, when El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, Spain, outranked Noma for the first time, its website received 2.5 million hits in 24 hours. The waiting list ballooned to a year.
What’s next for the World’s 50 Best Awards?
Recognizing that it’s time for a change in the restaurant industry, World’s 50 Best has stated its commitment to equality and inclusivity. In a recent open letter, Hélène Pietrini, director of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, has pledged to “help foster an environment where expert female voices are heard and where female chefs are identified, valued and invested in on an equal basis to their male counterparts.” Now, World’s 50 Best has committed to achieving a 50-50 gender balance across its 1,040-strong worldwide Academy of voters, and has tapped some of the world’s leading female chefs to create an informal advisory board to act as a forum for discussion and action on gender-related issues. In an interview with World’s 50 Best, Chef Clare Smyth of the U.K. acknowledged that there is still more work to be done. “We still have a real lack of women recognized at the top of the industry and we have to do something about that — we’re not going to change it by ignoring it,” she said.
Additionally, this past year the Awards introduced a new initiative: the BBVA Scholarship. Developed in conjunction with global financial group BBVA, the scholarship was created to nurture young talent (applicants for the scholarship are required to have less than three years’ experience in a professional kitchen), with entries open to aspiring chefs from across the globe. The winner is offered a pair of stages at two of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
“Winning this scholarship is a dream come true,” said Liu. “Despite never having been to culinary school, I now have more confidence to prove myself as a professional chef. Working in kitchens has always been very exciting and humbling for me, and I am ready to step it up a notch. I also hope in the future I can give back to the industry by offering young chefs the same opportunities that I have been lucky enough to receive.”
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