After three years at the number one position on the World's 50 Best list, chef René Redzepi's Copenhagen restaurant Noma was bumped down to number two, with El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain taking the number one spot. A bunch of newspapers — led in part by a syndicated story from the often snaky news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) — pounced on the ranking decline and attributed it to the Norovirus outbreak at Noma February 2013. But nothing could be further from the truth: Voting had already taken place long before the outbreak. According to a spokesperson, votes had to be submitted at the end of October 2012.
Voting is a somewhat complicated process. The World's 50 Best manifesto explains it in detail: 26 separate regions around the world are run by a chairperson, with each region having a panel of 36 members. Each member gets seven votes, for a total of around 6,500 votes. "The results," says the 50 Best website, "are a simple computation of votes." This simple computation takes seven months apparently. Math is hard?
Back to the media's response: The raw story from the AFP by Danny Kemp posted onto Google News ran with the lede:
Spain's El Celler de Can Roca seized the title of the world's best restaurant from Denmark's Noma on Monday, one month after dozens of people came down with a bout of food poisoning from the Copenhagen eatery.
First, it's factually incorrect: the food poisoning at Noma occurred February 12-16, two and half months before the 50 Best was announced on April 29th. Timeline aside, it's a subtle insinuation and a totally sensationalist take that Noma lost the title because the judges factored in the Norovirus outbreak. It never happened. And then there's also AFP's headline: Denmark's Noma loses world restaurant crown after outbreak."
AFP's stories are syndicated out to many newspapers across the world, and they have the option to write their own headlines. Here are two newspapers that ran the AFP's story but with scandalous headlines:
· The New Zealand Herald: "Food poisoning sees Noma lose world's best restaurant title"
· The Japan Times: "Spain eatery grabs world's top spot after poisoning floors Danish rival"
The AFP wasn't the only one to play up the Norovirus angle. There's the Independent's Adam Sherwin:
Spain has been crowned the new restaurant capital of the world after a norovirus outbreak marked the end of Noma in Denmark's reign as the world's best dining experience... Noma's reputation took a hit in February when 63 guests fell ill with sickness and diarrhoea after visiting the haute cuisine establishment.
Or the Week, in an un-bylined post:
Noma, praised for its modern take on Nordic cuisine, dropped to number two after a Norovirus outbreak affected 63 diners in February.
Or Brea Carter over at Hospitality Magazine, who's even a little surprised it ranked #2:
Despite the well publicised norovirus outbreak that struck the restaurant in February, Rene Redzepi's Noma was awarded second place.
And finally, Doug Powell over at Barfblog, tracker of all things food safety, who asks with the deceptive headline: "Did norovirus outbreak at Noma contribute to lost title as world's best restaurant? Probably not." The correct answer to that question would clearly be "No."