The World Restaurant Awards will be unveiled for the first time ever at the historic Hotel de Villa overlooking the Seine in the heart of Paris on 14 May.
Joe Warwick, the creative director of The World Restaurant Awards and Andrea Petrini, the head of the judging panel told Food and Wine Gazette “this is not another fucking list.”
The awards will include restaurant of the year, new restaurant of the year, enduring classic – recognising the sustained excellent of restaurants open at least 50 years, event of the year covering pop-ups and temporary restaurant residences, forward drinking – rewarding clever thinking on drinking from wine, beer and cocktails to coffee, tea and everything in between and far-flung beauty – worth the journey to an isolated location.
The brainchild of Joe Warwick who had the idea over 10 years ago and who had nearly given up hope of ever seeing it materialise, the awards will also feature less serious awards which the organisers hope create not only a smile but also get people thinking. “There will be an award for untatooed chef of the year since it seems like everyone needs to have a tattoo to enter a restaurant kitchen nowadays,” Andrea said. “We will also have the red wine restaurant of the year award because it seems like it has become impossible to find restaurants where you can drink red wine with menu pairings as sommeliers try to serve wine that works with fermentation and more vegetables among others.”
One other provocative award will be for the chef who stays in his restaurant with Andrea saying “this is an award that is not going to be won by any of our friends because they are all going around to food congresses or cooking four hands dinners. It is a funny award but it is also philosophical because it raises serious issues of whether it is legitimate to charge more when the chef is present in a restaurant or vice-versa to offer a discount when the chef is not present,” he said.
But how did the idea come about and why is it being launched now when there are so many lists and awards for chefs and restaurants.
“This idea has been hanging around for more than a decade. I had discussed it with Justin Clark of Taste of London and my idea was to have something similar to the Oscars or Grammy Awards where there would be categories that could be inspected and judged. It was a way of getting away from lists,” said Joe.
Building on this idea and given he is the author of the book Where Chefs Eat, he wanted to create a curated list of restaurants that people would travel to. He knows that lists are arbitrary and impossible to be fair. “The original idea was to get British Airways on bard to sponsor the awards but it was not the right time to launch these awards.”
Joe thought his dream of seeing these awards launched would never materialise but eventually Brand Events which organises the Taste of London and Taste of Paris festivals was bought by IMG. “They came back to me but I was not sure that it would fly and told them to contact me when things were concrete and finally I got a call in April this year, we sat down to discuss and here we are,” he said.
The awards will take place in Paris. This is a fitting place because it is the birthplace of gastronomy in the Western World, Andrea and Joe said.
So how will the awards work? At the moment, the organisers are compiling a list of 100 judges from top chefs, to critics and journalists as well as people who travel to eat around the world. “It is an A-list panel,” says Joe.
They will be asked to nominate restaurants, chefs, bars etc. across a list of 18 categories. There will be 12 main awards and 6 smaller awards. A long list and a short list will be prepared and those on the short list will be inspected anonymously.
Joe and Andrea both have the same philosophy when it comes to transparency and hospitality. “We believe that food and going to a restaurant is a bit like culture and going to the theatre. We want to address the elephant in the room which is the issue of hospitality in restaurants. We know that those who will be nominated may include places where they have been invited. The reality is that few people can pay their own bill if they visit more than a few restaurants. A shit restaurant will not be great because it has offered hospitality. We will publish a list the 100 judges but of course we will not say who will carry out the inspections once there is a short list. Those who are offered hospitality will be transparent about it.”
Andrea goes one step further. He says that a book critic or a music critic is not expected to not review the book or record if it was sent to him for free. “Does getting the new Zadie Smith novel or Philip Roth novel for free effect your judgement or make you not eligible to judge it? The same goes for film critics,” he said.
The list of judges will also be unique with near perfect gender equality. “It is maybe more of a challenge when it comes to chefs but that is compensated with food and travel journalists,” Joe said.
With the list, the organisers want to shine a light on places that would never make to lists like the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. “We have one for enduring classics or destination restaurants which would never make it to such a list for a number of reasons,” Joe said.
Those who are cynical may ask why should there be a new awards I ask Andrea. He tells me that the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list was fun when it was young and provocative and there was no pressure from the industry. “It has now become something competitive. It was fun when it was not commercial now it has lost its soul becoming a bit like a circus,” Andrea said.
“I love lists, I devour every list in every magazine, whether it is the best 10 movies of the year, the 10 best books or the 10 best records. I read every list. But these awards will be different, they are like the Oscars,” Andrea said.
Andrea needs no introduction in the food world. He is known for having discovered many of today’s great chefs and is co-curator of GELINAZ! as well as prolific food writer among others. He has also been listed as one of the most influential figures in the world of food today.
So how will the process work? The judges will vote in January and it is here that the long lists and the short lists of 5 names or restaurants will be created. Judges will then visit the short-listed places between January and April.
The event that will be broadcast will take place on 13 May at the Hotel de Ville in Paris. “We have there backing of the three most iconic 3 Michelin star chefs in Paris. We have a contract to do it for three years in Paris.”
The World Restaurant Awards is here to stay. And it is being born in the city where western gastronomy was born.