Storm over World's 50 Best Restaurants list

While chef Massimo Bottura (left) celebrates Osteria Francescana topping the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, top French chefs such as Joel Robuchon (above) have been left out.
While chef Massimo Bottura (above) celebrates Osteria Francescana topping the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, top French chefs such as Joel Robuchon have been left out. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
While chef Massimo Bottura (left) celebrates Osteria Francescana topping the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, top French chefs such as Joel Robuchon (above) have been left out.
While chef Massimo Bottura celebrates Osteria Francescana topping the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, top French chefs such as Joel Robuchon (above) have been left out.

NEW YORK • The first Italian restaurant to be named the best in the world celebrated its win on Tuesday as controversy erupted over the omission of several big names from the list.

The Osteria Francescana in Modena topped the World's 50 Best Restaurants list, after coming in second last year.

But even as chef Massimo Bottura and his team celebrated, a row blew up about the exclusion of top French chefs, including Joel Robuchon - a fixture on the list since it was launched 14 years ago.

Mr Andrea Petrini, who chaired 50 Best's French arm for more than a decade until his departure in September, also questioned how only two French chefs working in France could have made the grade.

"It is a massive surprise. It's inexplicable," he said. "Are they really saying there are twice as many great Mexican and Peruvian restaurants as there are French ones?"

He added, referring to allegations of lobbying and cosy deals between restaurants and jury members that have dogged the awards: "If you look at the place occupied by Latin American restaurants, you have to ask some questions."

He claimed that the British-based list "has always had a problem with France".

Even so, he said he was shocked that "a major figure such as Robuchon had been relegated from the field".

Last year, Robuchon, himself a former 50 Best judge, had criticised the list's transparency, claiming it had become prone to "cronyism, 'flip a coin' voting, geopolitical influence and lobbying".

50 Best editor William Drew rebutted that it was "France that had a problem with 50 Best" rather than the other way around, and that voting had been overseen by consultancy firm Deloitte.

This year's French results were "a surprise for many people, including us", he said.

"But there are signs in our 51 to 100 Best list that French restaurants are coming back.

"French restaurants haven't suddenly become bad. It is just that, to get into the list, you have to get a lot of votes and French votes may have been spread" since the country has so many good restaurants, he said.

While Italian-born Petrini hailed the four chefs from his homeland who had made the top 50, he said it was "difficult to believe... that Parisian restaurants recognised as important and inventive by the rest of the world, such as Le Chateaubriand and L'Astrance", had not.

He said 50 Best's problem was that it began as a "snapshot, a playlist of the most interesting, intriguing restaurants and it never claimed to be scientific. It did not demand any rigour or exactness. But then it became very important economically for chefs and certain countries in terms of tourism".

Mr Drew admitted 50 Best "was a snapshot. It is not scientific. But it is based on the opinions of experts all around the world".

But he rebutted claims that sponsors could sway results.

Despite the row, Mr Petrini said Bottura was a worthy winner and the choice appears to have won support from an unlikely quarter - French President Francois Hollande.

Chef Bottura told La Repubblica newspaper that after the French leader dined with Italian premier Matteo Renzi at Osteria Francescana last year, Mr Hollande said: "Italy 2, France 0. This is not cuisine, this is art."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2016, with the headline 'Storm over World's 50 Best Restaurants list'. Print Edition | Subscribe