This is not another list, Joe Warwick and Andrea Petrini repeat as often as is necessary to point out why the World Restaurant Awards is different to what is already out there. Does the world need another list is often the question they are asked time and time again.
We have become accustomed to lists from this year’s top books to the essential places you need to visit before you die, to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, the La Liste, a data driven list, the Best Chef’s list, the Chef’s Choice for chef of the year and so much more. It is exhausting to keep track but unfortunately it is what generates clicks, interest and buzz in the age of social media.
So what’s different and what’s new with the World Restaurant Awards and why have some of the world’s top names in the restaurant world from Massimo Bottura to Elena Arzak, from René Redzepi to Clare Smyth, from David Chang to Ana Ros, from Dan Barber to Helene Darroze and from Yotam Ottolengi to Manu Buffara given it their support and time? The World Restaurant Awards which will be unveiled for the first time in Paris in February 2019 is already making noise because of its promise to be different.
As Joe Warwick, the creative director of the World Restaurant Awards said, the categories have been designed, and the judging panel selected to talk about excellent restaurants of all shapes, sizes and colours and to provoke conversations that go beyond the usual big names and destinations.
The longlists which includes nearly 300 restaurants have no hierarchical order. It is a carefully curated list from the submissions of 100 judges of which I have the honour to be one. You can find the complete list of judges (which for the first time is 50/50 composed of men and women) here.
These judges have over summer been asked to submit up to five nominations in each category of the 18 that are being awarded this year.
Andrea Petrini, who knows a thing or two about spotting talent and is the head of the judging panel said the ‘talented chefs, journalists and assorted rootless cosmopolitans they have assembled has not let them down with their nominations.”
We are now down to the shortlists which are being visited and judged as we write this. They will be announced next month.
Despite some tongue-in-cheek categories like the tattoo-free chef or the tweezer free kitchen, there are also the serious categories like ethical thinking, forward drinking, innovative thinking and off-map destination to give a few examples. For the full list of awards and the long-list go here.
Do we have problems with tattoos or tweezers? Of course not. But it is important to call the emperor naked sometimes. It is good to be honest with oneself and be true to who you are without the need or necessity to follow trends just because they are cool and trendy at the moment. Should you be penalised because you don’t have a tattoo in the kitchen? Or because you are a woman? Don’t you want to use tweezers in the kitchen? It’s fine. Do you want to go counter-culture? It is also fine. That’s why the judging panel is as diverse as it can get.
There is hope that the World Restaurant Awards will be the real thing. First the categories are likely to change from year to year on the basis of the input of judges which is great because that means that no individual or restaurant will feel the need to ‘monopolise’ the list. This should also ensure that the intense lobbying and travelling circus that goes on for the compilation of other lists will not materialise here. We’ve all heard stories of restaurants who buy their way into a list through huge hospitality budgets. It might still happen here but it is less likely because eventually you will get a number of judges who will visit your restaurant to judge you if you make it to the short list.
The changing categories ensures that there is constant innovation. Whether it is Michelin or The World’s 50 Best Restaurants we are all seeking innovations in the kitchen. But what about the awards and rating systems that have remained static and lacked transparency for so many years? If we are to be credible we need to walk the talk. So if we expect restaurants to be constantly innovating, shouldn’t the awards also be constantly innovating?
Second, while there will be a nomination for restaurant of the year, there are not going to be positions. There will be longlists, shortlists in each category and a winner per category. Not everyone one will necessarily agree on the winners but I for one am more interested in finding the blind-spots, i.e. the places that are on the rise, the ones that are not necessarily on the radar yet. For me, as someone who’s interested in discovering new things, the long list is as interesting as the short list if not more.
One of the most heated arguments during our discussions in May when we were asked to provide input on the categories was whether the restaurants of chefs who are judges should be in the list or not. Now that’s a tricky one particularly for the up and coming talent who deserve and need all the recognition that they can get. That issue has been resolved if I look at the long-lists and a fine-balance seems to have emerged.
Third there is the question of transparency. The judges are publicly known. It is a first. There is no obscurity here. The judges, when they are submitting their nominations have to indicate whether they have received hospitality or not. It is not a barrier to your vote but it helps keep each one of us honest.
Is the system fool proof or perfect? Of course it’s not. Like every start-up it faces hiccups and also teething problems. But it is a start and a very promising one at that.
I’m sure we will work together to improve it as we go along. What’s for sure is that this World Restaurant Awards deserves a shot at making a difference not just in the restaurant world but also in a much wider sense.
The start couldn’t look more promising.