I have been wanting to attend The World’s 50 Best since missing my first opportunity to do so in 2017, the year Melbourne hosted it. So when the organizers sent an invite for this year’s awards, I said “yes” without much hesitation.
Since covering the awards’ Asian counterpart, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, from its inaugural event in 2013 onwards, together with the recently established Asia’s 50 Best Bars awards, I thought I already knew what to expect. While the program that included various forums and other related events—aside from the actual awards ceremony itself—was organized similarly to the Asian versions, there was also fairly controversial buzz going on that made for an even more interesting experience.
Other award-winning restaurants and bars:
The actual awards night was preceded by #50BestTalks, a roundtable discussion that has morphed through the years into a global thought leadership forum. This year’s theme was “Kitchen Karma” and featured last year’s world number one, Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana (Modena, Italy), together with top chefs Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin (New York), Ana Roš of Hiša Franko (Slovenia), Tetsuya Wakuda of Waku Ghin (Singapore), and this year’s World’s Best Female Chef Daniela Soto-Innes of Cosme and Atla (New York). They explored fascinating topics covering cooking culture, responsible leadership, and mindfulness.
There was a pre-awards press conference held at Singapore’s National Gallery that featured past winners like Bottura, Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca (Girona, Spain), and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park (New York). This was followed by a four-part “Food Meets Future” interactive event celebrating the 120th anniversary of event sponsor S.Pellegrino and top-billed by popular US-based Spanish chef José Andrés, who also won this year’s American Express Icon Award.
The Best of the Best debate
While these events rightfully placed the spotlight on topics relevant to today’s culinary scene, it was interesting to note—especially during the Q&A that usually ends these kinds of forums—that the bulk of the questions asked by media focused on the awards’ controversial new Best of the Best directive.
After 18 years, the London-based media company that organizes The World’s 50 Best, William Reed, decided to create this Best of the Best category, similar to a Hall of Fame, where restaurants that had previously secured the world’s number one spot would be automatically ineligible to be part of the list again, but instead would be conferred Best of the Best status, ensuring that they would not disappear from the World’s 50 Best family entirely. This move was meant to address the growing criticism that the list has been garnering over the years, most notably that it has historically been too Eurocentric and male dominated.
Not surprisingly, this new Best of the Best rule was a hotly debated topic throughout the event. Personally, I don’t think the rule is ill thought out, and quite a number of journalists present at the pre-awards press conference seemed to share this sentiment. Many feel that this new directive further questions the list’s legitimacy. For restaurants in the running, it somewhat diminishes the achievement of winning the top spot when they know they haven’t really “beaten” any of the acknowledged world’s best. Any future winners may not be perceived as really deserving of their number one ranking. There were also concerns about the possible detrimental effects of non-eligible restaurants falling out of the limelight.
According to William Drew, The World’s 50 Best’s Director of Content, this new directive was solely initiated by the organizers in consultation with the past winners affected by the change. However, this statement seems to contradict an investigative piece by Lisa Abend of Time Magazine,published just a day or two before the awards, which strongly implies that, while some top chefs like Daniel Humm and Massimo Bottura lobbied for this change, other chefs of former number one restaurants namely René Redzepi of Noma (Copenhagen, Denmark) and Ferran Adrià of the now closed elBulli (Catalonia, Spain), were not consulted and only found out about the new directive the day it was announced through The World’s 50 Best social media channels.
The 50 best restaurants announced
While participants were still debating about the Best of the Best directive, the awards night ceremony went ahead as scheduled at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre, with many of the world’s best chefs, restaurateurs, and food journalists filling the vast hall. Starting with number 50, the event hosts counted down all 50 restaurants, along with the announcement of special awardees, culminating with the new number one restaurant of 2019—the three Michelin-starred Mirazur headed by Argentinian-Italian chef Mauro Colagreco.
Debuting on The World’s 50 Best list back in 2002, Mirazur is located in Menton, France and boasts fabulous views of the Cote d’Azur. Although I haven’t been to Mirazur, I was fortunate to have tried Chef Mauro’s take on modern French cooking that is heavily influenced by his Italian and Argentine lineage, when he visited Manila in November 2015 for a special four-hands dinner with Chef William Mahi, formerly of the Tasting Room at the City of Dreams Manila. Back then, Mirazur only had two Michelin stars and was number 11 on The World’s 50 Best list, so I was very happy to witness this very charming chef’s progression to the number one spot—despite its possibly questionable status.
One big surprise in this year’s list is the strong comeback of crowd favorite Noma, coming in as this year’s highest new entry at number two. While Noma held the number one spot in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014 which would have invalidated it from this year’s list, the newly revamped Noma is significantly different from the original concept and therefore still eligible.
Another crowd favorite, Asador Etxebarri, located in the Basque region in Spain, garnered the number three spot, while the Bangkok-based Gaggan came in at number four, making it the best restaurant in Asia as far as The World’s 50 Best list is concerned. This can be seen as a good recovery after it slipped to second place in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants held just this May. (Odette of Singapore took that top spot.) Another Copenhagen restaurant, Geranium, completes the top five.
This year’s list welcomed more new entries from Asia, namely Hong Kong’s The Chairman at number 41, the only restaurant on the list serving Chinese cuisine, as well as Bangkok’s modern German restaurant, Sühring, debuting at number 45. The Art of Hospitality award went to Tokyo’s Den, which was the recipient of the same award at this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Of course, glaringly absent from this year’s list is last year’s top winner, Osteria Francescana, thanks (or no thanks?) to the new Best of the Best rule, along with other former number ones like El Celler de Can Roca, Eleven Madison Park, England’s The Fat Duck, and California’s French Laundry.
One advantage of attending The World’s 50 Best are all the other related events that happen adjacent to it, as local restaurants take advantage of the high calibre chefs coming to Singapore to stage their own events. One of the highlights of this trip was attending a special party that had my favorite chefs from Singapore’s Burnt Ends and Ronin HK cooking with visiting chefs form Momofuku Ko New York and Momofuku Selobo Sydney.
The substantive discussions and debates about the Best of the Best that transpired were substantive. I gained first-hand information about the goings-on in the culinary world, and it was an honor seeing and meeting some of the top global chefs in person: Massimo Bottura, Eric Ripert, and Heston Blumenthal. Overall, my first The World’s 50 Best experience was worth the trip to Singapore. Good thing I said yes.
For the complete World’s 50 Best 2019 list, visit http://www.theworlds50best.