Once heralded as the restaurant awards to reform restaurant awards, it seems the splashy World Restaurant Awards ceremony is no more. In a now-deleted Tweet, Bloomberg critic Richard Vines broke the news, writing that the organizers were “canning” the event for 2020. In a statement, the World Restaurant Awards confirmed that there would be no ceremony in 2020. Instead, the organizers are planning to adapt the awards for TV.
“As we look to the future, we believe extending our reach beyond a specific place, audience or moment in time is key to our continued progress, and are therefore working to evolve the awards into a television series,” the statement reads. “We are currently in discussions with various broadcasters and look forward to sharing more in the coming months.”
When talent agency IMG announced plans for a new restaurant awards in May 2018, they were sold as the answer to many of the societal inequities reflected in traditional awards and rankings like Michelin and the World’s 50 Best: mainly, a gross underrepresentation of women, people of color, and non-Eurocentric food. World Restaurant Awards co-creators Joe Warwick, a co-founder of the World’s 50 Best, and Andrea Petrini, co-founder of culinary collective Gelinaz!, had experience running the kinds of events the new awards wanted to improve upon. They enlisted 100 prominent chefs and food writers (with a 50/50 gender split) to help them create an “inclusive” awards that would better reflect the contemporary restaurant industry, covering multiple styles of dining across geographic regions.
However, the awards categories that the committee agreed on were slightly baffling. Tongue-in-cheek “small-plates” categories like “tweezer-free kitchen” and “tattoo-free chef” (no superlative indicated) appeared alongside “big-plates” awards that seemed to make an earnest attempt at recognizing groups other awards and rankings had historically overlooked. There was, for example, a category honoring classic restaurants and one highlighting restaurants that didn’t accept reservations (by contrast, both Michelin and World’s 50 Best tend to favor elaborate tasting menu restaurants). The organizers said the more frivolous small-plates designations were included to recognize “contemporary cultural nuances.”
And in February, on the night of the event in Paris, the World Restaurant Awards felt much the same. They weren’t televised, as was teased initially, and several of the award winners were old hats: Renowned French chef Alain Ducasse won “tattoo-free chef” and San Sebastián restaurant Mugaritz, which consistently appears near the top of the World’s 50 Best, was recognized for its beverage program.
In the official statement about the pivot, the World Restaurant Awards noted: “We are proud of all the World Restaurant Awards community achieved in our inaugural year: changing the conversation about what an international restaurant awards should be; raising important issues including gender representation; and recognizing different kinds of restaurant experience beyond luxury dining.”
But for some, the 2019 World Restaurant Awards was a let down. Virgilio Martínez, chef of Peru restaurants Central and Mil (which was nominated in the off-map destination category), told Eater the awards were “too Eurocentric.” He did, however, note that he could see that changing with time. If the World Restaurant Awards does eventually get it right, whatever that looks like will apparently be televised.