When Kobus Van Der Merwe, a former journalist was called onto the stage for the first time to receive the award of the Off-Map Destination he could barely believe it. For a few seconds he closed his eyes to let it sink in. But when he was called for a second time to pick up the Restaurant of the Year award he was left nearly speechless.
He said he was already humbled to have been in the room with industry giants because making it to the short-list was already unexpected. But to pick up two plates at the first ever World Restaurant Awards that were held at the Palais Brongniart in Paris was completely unexpected.
“I am really proud to bring something like this back to our continent and beautiful country,” he said. “It is a pity that the team were not here to celebrate this incredible award with me,” Kobus told Food and Wine Gazette during the after party that was held after the event. “But I’ve had a really great telephone conversation with them and it is great,” he said.
He added that he was extremely happy for his team who had no formal culinary training.
Margot Janse, maybe the most internationally recognised chef in South Africa could not hide her joy for the achievement that will certainly put South Africa and the African continent on the food map for the first time ever. “Proud doesn’t even come near the true emotions I felt while witnessing this. Go Wolfgat, Go South Africa,” she wrote on Facebook.
Over 600 guests attended the first ever ceremony of the World Restaurant Awards.
The event was impeccably organised by IMG who collaborated with Joe Warwick, the creative director of the awards and Andrea Petrini, the chair of the Judging Panel. From a long list of nearly 300 restaurants emerged a short list of five restaurants in each category for the big plates awards and three nominees for the small plates awards.
For the first time ever, seven on the long listed categories were visited by a team of two judges who selected the winner in each category. The decision to award the restaurant of the year to Wolfgat was unanimous after a weekend of deliberations among the ‘judges’ who had visited restaurants in the seven different categories.
The first award to be announced on Monday evening was that of Thomas Frebel who went up to receive the big plate together with members of his team. The German chef told Food and Wine Gazette it was the first time since restaurant INUA opened in Tokyo that he took five days off from the restaurant. He was earlier in Montpellier for the Cookbook exhibition.
Next on stage was Bo Songisava of Bo.LAN for the Tweezer free kitchen award. The presenter of the evening Antoine de Caunes jokingly said that tweezers were used to pluck unwanted facial hair but have become the most iconic restaurant tool in modern kitchens.
It was Lorenza Fumelli’s turn to call out the winner of the House Special. On stage went Riccardo Caminini of Lido 84, an Italian restaurant on Lago di Garda. Considered by many as one of the most underrated restaurant in the world, he has made one of Italy’s most humble dishes, the Cacio e Pepe a work of art. He cooks it and serves it in a pig’s bladder. “I love Pasta,” he said on stage when claiming the award.
Next was Kobus Van der Merwe followed by Jordi Kahn for the atmosphere of the year award. The restaurant Vespertine in Los Angeles is more spaceship than restaurant and is often considered as a hallucinogenic sci-fi dream brought to life.
In a world where getting a restaurant booking has sometimes become almost impossible, the World Restaurant Awards also wanted to put a spotlight on places where people can just walk in without a reservation. Alex Atala, the Brazilian chef could not hide his pride and joy as he called the chef of Brazilian restaurant Mocoto on stage.
Alain Ducasse, sitting just a metre away from me was called on stage to pick up the Tattoo-Free chef of the year in an award aimed at sending a subtle message to today’s youth. He thanked the organisers for choosing Paris to host the first edition of the awards.
Next up was Lara Gilmore who is the face of the Food for Soul foundation and who runs together with her husband Massimo Bottura the Refettorio’s in Italy, France and Brazil among others that are aimed to raise awareness about food waste while at the same time also feeding the poor. On stage, Gilmore thanked all those who have supported Refettorio and Food for Soul saying that many had contributed to feed the poor while at the same time raising awareness on the initiative.
Christophe Pele, chef of Paris restaurant Le Clarence received the award for Original Thinking. The French thanked his team for working to make such an award possible.
Mathieu Viannay’s from Lyon’s La Mere Brazier was called to pick up the award of Enduring Classic. ‘The mother of french cooking’ died in 1977 but Matthieu Viannay has picked up the mantle and has turned this classic restaurant into a must visit in Lyon. “By the way, Lyon is the capital of gastronomy and not Paris,” he replied to Alain Ducasse and Antoine de Caunes after picking up the award.
Ballymaloe House was awarded the small plate for Trolley of the Year while Noble Rot Bar picked up the Red Wine Serving Restaurant of the year award.
Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz went up on stage to pick up the Forward Drinking award and thanked his team for the work that has gone into the restaurant that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
The team behind the Refugee Food Festival collected the Event of the Year award while Paradiso Cork and Gortnanain won the collaboration of the year for chef-farmer collaboration.
Lisa Abend received the Long Form Journalism award for her article called the Food Circus on Fool Magazine while Alain Passard, who until a few years ago did not even have a smart phone, took the Instagram Account of the Year award for his unique way of communicating with his audience about his ‘vegetal’ cuisine.