Yesterday Restaurant magazine revealed its annual list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants. As has become something of a tradition, the food media world has taken to the internet to air their grievances with the list. Below is a round-up of responses to this year's attempt to definitively rank the world's restaurants in numerical order.
A Matter of Diversity
The World's 50 Best list has often come under attack for its lack of diversity, whether in terms of gender, geography, or styles of cuisine. This year is no exception.
On the gender front, only two female chefs represented on the list: Elena Arzak of #8 restaurant Arzak, at which she cooks with her father Juan Mari Arzak and Helena Rizzo, chef of #36 restaurant Maní in Brazil and this year's Best Female Chef winner. It's worth noting that this year's winner of the Asia's Best Female Chef award Lanshu Chen of Taiwan's Le Moût did not land on the top 100 list. (Le Moût ranked #24 on the Asia 50 Best list.)
LA Times critic and 50 Best voter S. Irena Virbilia laments the lack of women on the list, but says that, overall, the list is more diverse than it's ever been. She writes in the LA Times: "I am one of the judges and was struck this year by how much more diverse the list has become in terms of countries and cuisines represented. But it's also sadly lacking in women chefs".
Plenty of folks disagree with Virbilia in her praise of the geographic diversity of the list. Australian chef Peter Gilmore of Sydney's Quay (which fell from #48 to #60) tells the Daily Telegraph: "I think we deserve to have more Australian restaurants on the list. It's a very Eurocentric list, the way they do the voting anyway." This year Australia's only representative is Attica at #32, and Gilmore's concern over the lack of Australian restaurants on the list was reiterated in several news outlets.
[Photo: World's 50 Best / Facebook]
One anonymous 50 Best voter tells the Australian that the list is informed by where fellow voters have been: "It's all about travel and where the voters have travelled in the 18 months prior to the voting in December. If a restaurant hasn't scored well, it's because the voters haven't been through the place."
Similar complaints surfaced from Asia, which had seven restaurants rank among the top 50. Mischa Moselle of the South China Morning Post writes: "The judges seem like a conservative bunch. Elsewhere in Asia, they name only three restaurants in Japan – all of them in Tokyo." No restaurants from Canada made this list, which angered chef David Hawksworth who tweeted a link to Canada's Wikipedia page to enlighten the list makers.
There have also been some complaints in terms of restaurant styles. News.com.au's Rebecca Sullivan argues that the list is "overrun" with fine dining establishments and asks "So why does 'world's best' have to equal 'fine dining'?" She's not the first to point out that there might be a certain style of restaurant that appeals to the voters. Last year British critic Giles Coren slammed some of the restaurant tropes of the list including "unexpected locations," minimalist decor, iPhone photo obsessives, and dishes with names like "'smoke and water,' 'egg painting,' 'forest leaves' and 'swamp thing.'"
Best or Hottest?
A common theme among the respones to this year's World's 50 Best list is the questioning of whether the list really ranks "best" restaurants or "hot" restaurants. One unlikely proponent of the "hot" list argument is Bloomberg critic and 50 Best voting chair Richard Vines who prior to the ceremony wrote that the "term 'best restaurant' doesn't mean a lot" and that the list is more of a "snapshot of the establishments that are in favor with restaurant-business insiders who dine out regularly." Vines is also quoted by CNN describing the World's 50 Best list as a "beauty contest for restaurants."
[Photo: World's 50 Best Restaurants 2014]
Simon Thomsen, executive life editor of Business Insider Australia and former restaurant critic says the list should be renamed "the 50 Hottest. It's more about the vibe thing and what's hot in foodie circles than a serious critical assessment of the global dining scene." He lays on the criticisms: "If you think the World's 50 Best Restaurants is a definitive guide to the finest places to eat around the planet, then you probably think that the choice for Miss Universe influences world peace."
Voting Practices, Questioned
Thomsen also brings up a familiar critique of the voting practice, pointing out that voters are only allowed to vote for restaurants they've been to. "Magnus [Nilsson] is a brilliant young chef, but really, no wonder it's so hard to get a booking [at Faviken] – this 16 seat restaurant must be permanently full of 50 Best voters to be that high in the rankings." This point echoes known 50 best skeptic and restaurant critic Steve Cuozzo's take on the list back in 2011 when he wrote of Momofuku Ko (then ranked #65): " To achieve even that ranking would require the judges to have taken up all of the joint's 12 stools for months on end."
Guardian critic Marina O'Laughlin wonders about the fairness of the voters. She writes: "There are those of us who look at it askance, questioning how all these 'impartial' judges have scored reservations at some of the world's hardest-to-book tables, managing to finance the travel and restaurant bills themselves."
[Photo: World's 50 Best Restaurants 2014]
Julia Moskin of the New York Times brings up similar concerns, pointing out the lack of anonymity among the voters. "They are judged by a long list of fellow chefs, food critics, and frequent diners who are well known to the world and each other, making objectivity and anonymity impossible. The algorithm that produces the rankings remains obscure."
Restaurant magazine editor William Drew addressed these sorts of concerns last year when he asserted that the list is "a positive force in the restaurant universe." While he explained that he "trust[s] our jurors" and that the list is "not a few glasses of champagne buying a vote" it seems that this year, some are still not convinced.