World’s 50 Best Restaurants hall of fame move discussed for many years

At the press conference yesterday were (from left) Mr Charles Reed; Ms Melissa Ow; chefs Joan Roca, Daniel Humm, Garima Arora and Julien Royer; and Mr William Drew.
At the press conference yesterday were (from left) Mr Charles Reed; Ms Melissa Ow; chefs Joan Roca, Daniel Humm, Garima Arora and Julien Royer; and Mr William Drew. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

A change made early this year – wherein restaurants that have previously clinched the No. 1 spot in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants award will no longer be eligible for the annual ranking – has come under the spotlight after a Time magazine article published last Friday called the list “more controversial than ever”.

The change means restaurants such as El Celler de Can Roca and the now-defunct elBulli in Spain; The French Laundry and Eleven Madison Park in the United States; The Fat Duck in England; and the current No. 1 Osteria Francescana in Italy will enter the Best of the Best programme – a hall of fame recognising their achievements.

The original Noma in Denmark, crowned No. 1 four times, is no longer eligible. However, its new incarnation, which opened in February last year with a new concept and location, still qualifies for ranking.

The awards ceremony will be held tonight at Marina Bay Sands and a press conference yesterday at National Gallery Singapore addressed the change.

The Time report mentioned that chefs such as Osteria Francescana’s Massimo Bottura and Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm are among the chefs who proposed the change. It was to give opportunities to younger chefs as well as to avoid a “decline in reputation”.

When asked by The Straits Times about the programme being a chef-driven initiative, Mr William Drew, director of content for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, says: “The decision to introduce the Best of the Best is something that has been discussed for many years and it is entirely the decision of the organisation.

“We take responsibility and own that decision. As part of the process, we talked to people such as chefs, restaurateurs, media and the Academy Chairs. We believe this will help evolve 50 Best for the future.”

But by plucking the top restaurants out from the competition, does the list still represent the best?

Chef Humm says: “None of us has ever believed there is truly a best restaurant in the world. We understand that many chefs are doing amazing things and we are part of this community. It’s not so much about the ranking, though, of course, it’s nice to be at No. 1. It’s much more important to have amazing chefs to be involved and that is good for everyone and I think everyone wants that. It can’t be our moment forever and we are happy to not compete every single year.”

Chef Joan Roca of El Cellar de Can Roca adds in Spanish via an interpreter: “The fact that we’re not competing does not mean we are not committed to the same excellence, creativity and desire for people to enjoy a gastronomic experience. We are still getting better every day.”

Other members of the press conference panel included chef Julien Royer of Singapore’s fine-dining restaurant Odette; chef Garima Arora of Gaa in Bangkok; Mr Charles Reed, group managing director of William Reed Business Media, which publishes the annual list; and Ms Melissa Ow, deputy chief executive of the Singapore Tourism Board’s Experience Development Group.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2019, with the headline 'World’s 50 Best Restaurants hall of fame move discussed for many years'. Print Edition | Subscribe