The influence the World’s 50 Best restaurants has on the culinary world has been growing every year. But that influence seems to be coming at a price and that price is credibility. The criticism on the way that restaurants are judged has been there for many years but the noise is now growing louder.
Over the past years, there were many judges who have quit because they did not agree with the way the list was composed. On Monday 1st June, as the awards were announced for yet another year and the organisers announced that they would be moving to New York next year, it was becoming clearer to independent observers that the event has a credibility problem.
A few days earlier, a site Occupy 50 Best was created, calling on sponsors to withdraw from the contest unless it is reformed.
And chefs, who may earlier have thought twice before criticising the list, are now becoming more vociferous. Joel Robuchon, Georges Blanc, Francis Mallmann and Gianfranco Chiarini are among the signatories of the Occupy 50 Best.
A few days ago, German chef Christian Bau who has 3 Michelin stars and 19 points from Gault Millau published an email (see photo) from a blogger who gave the impression he was looking for a favour even if he later showed the bill he paid on Twitter. Earlier the chef sarcastically wrote that embattled FIFA president (or shall we say former) Sepp Blatter would have liked to personally announce the list in London.
Pierre Wynats, the retired three Michelin starred chef of Comme Chez Soi in Brussels criticised the list by saying there are few judges per country and it was incredibly hard to be objective particularly when the stakes were so high. He said he knew two for Belgium and these were ‘traiteurs’ or caterers. He said tongue in cheek that “San Pellegrino is the winner in all this.”
Tim Hayward in the Financial Times wrote this weekend that some judges with a public profile to protect have discreetly distanced themselves from the awards, amid nagging accusations that the judging system is flawed. One of the founders has also spoken out publicly deploring the direction the awards have taken.
The list includes the world’s best. There is no question about that. But among those, we get the feeling that there are restaurants, which are there to complete the list and make it more global. There is no harm in this. The problem is in the transparency.
Here are 8 reasons why we think the list is in trouble:
1. What was once a small list aimed at raising awareness among foodies about places they would otherwise not have heard of has become a big marketing event attracting many sponsors. When the list was not so important, the criteria for judging the restaurants was not under the spotlight. What was important was the discussion that such a list created. But we get the feeling that the criteria to judge the restaurants has not changed despite the fact that the influence has grown considerably. What was fit for purpose a few years ago is no longer deemed to be sufficient by many.
2. Everyone knows the impact Michelin and such a list has on a restaurant’s bottom line. So the chefs in the list cannot really hit out at the list. But the voices of discontent have been growing and now include influential chefs like Joel Robuchon, to mention the highest profile chef that has criticised the awards. More chefs are likely to join the fray in denouncing the contest.
3. How can a restaurant lose 40 places one year and then gain them back the next year only to lose 40 places again the following year? There is no justification for such fluctuations and to us this seems unexplainable.
4. The criteria to judge the restaurants is not transparent and judges are not asked to present receipts as proof that they have eaten in a restaurant. This may have to change if the list is to regain credibility.
5. Chefs are starting to give up on lists and stars. When we interviewed chef Sergio Herman he told us he has had enough of awards or stars. He acknowledged these were important for his teams in terms of recognition but he was personally no longer interested in them. We cannot blame him for this.
6. Many influential people are starting to pose serious questions about the credibility of the awards. That alone should set the alarm bells ringing.
7. How can judges consistently enter these restaurants when most people have no hope of ever getting a table, even if they tried, because the restaurants are booked months in advance?
8. We’ve heard before of Michelin awarding stars to restaurants that had not even opened yet. And they have faced lots of criticism and loss of credibility for this. But how can a restaurant be closed for many months in the year it is judged and still be considered as worthy of the list?
We believe that the list has its merits but the system needs to be reformed. The sooner this happens the better it is. But will it happen? We have our doubts.