Does the World's 50 Best Restaurants award still represent the best in the industry?

A press conference held at National Gallery on June 24, 2019, ahead of the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony.
A press conference held at National Gallery on June 24, 2019, ahead of the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - A change made early this year - where 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 on June 21 called the list "more controversial than ever".

The change means that 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 on the list, is no longer eligible. However, its new incarnation which opened in February 2018 with a new concept and location, still qualifies for ranking.

The awards ceremony will be held in Singapore on Tuesday (June 25) at Marina Bay Sands and a press conference held at National Gallery Singapore on Monday addressed this change.

The Time magazine article mentioned that chefs such as Osteria Francescana's Massimo Bottura and Eleven Madison Park's Daniel Humm, are some of 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 talk to people such as chefs, restaurateurs, media, and the Academy Chairs. We believe that 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 that 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 the No. 1 spot.

"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 a translator: "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.