The winners of this year’s S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants list have finally been announced, and the Danish restaurant Noma has stayed in the number one spot for a second year in a row. Last year Noma rose to number one after beating out elBulli, a Spanish restaurant that had held the title for four years in a row. Each year over 800 chefs, food journalists, critics, and other food experts gather together to compare notes and name the top 100 restaurants in the world. Even though the name only references 50 restaurants, it has expanded in recent years to a full 100.
Two Spanish restaurants took the next two spots, indicating that Spain is still one of the hotbeds for quality international restaurants. Rene Redzepi, Noma’s 33 year old head chef, was proud but not particularly surprised. His menus consist of updated and modern Nordic meals that include dishes like musk ox and beef cheek. The list was announced on the steps of London’s famous Guildhall as hundreds of restauranteurs and journalists gathered to hear the news.
Other winners were more openly moved by their nominations. Massimo Bottura, the head chef at Osteria Francescana, cried and jumped for joy after hearing his restaurant placed fourth in the list. Even low ranking positions indicate that the restaurant is one of the very best in the world, and ranking fourth indicates that the chef of Osteria Francescana is extremely skilled at combining presentation and flavors. While actors and directors have their skills validated by the Academy Awards, the Top 50 list is the major awards ceremony for the restaurant industry.
Some countries complain that they aren’t properly recognized in the listings, although this year’s list did do a better job of recognizing Asia. Last year Japan only had two restaurants make the cut, despite having more Michelin rated restaurants in Toyko than Paris can boast. This year’s list had nine Japanese locations. Latin America also saw more of their restaurants entering the listings, especially in the top 50, after Brazil was given its own category.
When Britain’s Restaurant magazine (not affiliated with RestaurantMagazine.com) began the awards in 2002, it was an informal publicity stunt. Chefs were asked to name their favorite international restaurants, but no one took it very seriously. As the years went by, the number of chefs and other food experts consulted grew and restaurants began to compete for the honor. Now it is the largest and most important competition of its kind for the industry. Just having your restaurant’s name mentioned at the 100th position leads to an influx of traffic that is hard to manage. Noma was booked three months in advance just hours after its number one position announcement.
Other restaurant guides, like Zagat’s and the prestigious Michelin reports, rely on anonymous reviews. The panel of over 800 experts encompasses a wide range of tastes and personal opinions, and a large consensus must be reached before a restaurant is ranked. This gives the rankings a heavier weight to many diners. The experts can only rank restaurants they have personally dined at in the last 18 months, meaning restaurants are recognized when they take great care to improve their quality over a short period of time.
Restauranteurs like the 50 Best system because many of them get a chance to vote (only once for their own restaurant though) and the expectations and rules are clear. It is hard to know who decides and on what factors for the award of a Michelin star. Because of this, many chefs would prefer to appear in the ranking list than receive a star. The rankings depend on the trends in international dining and the cutting edge of culinary experimentation. Chefs who are willing to take risks and play with their food combinations are more likely to be honored than traditionalists, which has caused a few hurt feelings in areas like French cuisine.
While Asia and Latin America finally saw recognition this year, the two Canadian restaurants featured last year both dropped off and were not present on the 2011 rankings. No restaurants were present from the Northern country. Peru, Mexico and Russia all featured new entrants on the list and may be growing in popularity over the next year as culinary locations.