This week for GQ, James Beard Award-winning journalist Brett Martin tackles the nuances of "The World's 50 Best Restaurants" list, digging into its rise to esteem and its ability to incite "lust, FOMO, envy, and imitation." He starts out by addressing the major quirk of the list itself: The "50 Best" actually consists of 100 restaurants. That's right. Here are the best lines from Martin's story that unpacks the mystique surrounding this list, which has been around for a mere 14 years.
Martin, on the list in context with Michelin ratings: "Philosophically, practically, even geographically, the 50 Best is, among other things, a rebuke to Michelin and its old-world — which is to say, classically French — values."
On the evolution of the list: "Arriving and evolving in the era of social media and a nonstop circuit of culinary conferences and festivals, the 50 Best has become a kind of house list for the cult of chef as artist and personality."
It thrives in a world of social media: "It is the list of the Instagrammed, the Snapchatted, and the Status Updated."
David McMillan of Montreal's Joe Beef (ranked 81st last year) said a place on the list comes with some "pretty OCD foodies," including some "who just want to notch restaurants on their belts."
On how restaurants stay on the list: "In a self-perpetuating cycle, the ranking begets articles begets visitors begets social media begets votes."
Martin, on the word gastronauts: "The best thing that can be said about that term is that it is not foodies, though it still brings to mind a band of miniaturized scientists sailing their way through somebody's colon in a tiny spaceship."
Panelists who vote on restaurants for the list are split among 27 regions: The U.S. and Canada have three regions, while China and Korea has one. Martin said: "This is one clue that the World's 50 Best defines world only slightly more expansively than the World Series does."
Will Guidara of Eleven Madison Park (No. 5) on what being on the list means: "It pushes and motivates and inspires you."
One unnamed restaurateur on the feeling of waiting for the results: "[The list] is like your high school boyfriend. He breaks up with you in the ninth grade and you never find out why. It's like a roller-coaster ride: It's fun. But it will make you sick."
On bringing in some variety: "As if to make up for that, the World's 50 Best also runs two regional lists: Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants and Asia's 50 Best Restaurants. Likewise, the award for Best Female Chef tacitly, if condescendingly, acknowledges the List's overwhelmingly testosteronic bent."
Martin on eating at restaurants on the list: "My experience with the World's 50 Best is a kind of culinary twist on Tolstoy's maxim that all happy families are the same but all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way."
The list is not a guide, but rather "a 'snapshot,' a glimpse of what interests a relatively small sample of highly engaged eaters at any given time."
Martin on not renaming the list the "Most Interesting" and putting the restaurants in alphabetical order: "I suppose if you're not 50, not the World, and not the Best, what, really, is left?"