The list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants is out—and so are its critics

Some chefs say this competition stinks.
Some chefs say this competition stinks.
Image: Reuters/Paulo Whitaker
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The results are in. El Celler de Can Roca in Spain has been anointed the world’s best new gastronomic destination, according to the much-anticipated annual list of the World’s 50 Best restaurants, just announced at an award ceremony in London. Among the top 10 winners are restaurants like Eleven Madison Park, in New York, and Noma, in Denmark, which falls from the first to third place.

Here are the top 10:

1. El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain.
2. Osteria Franciscana, Modena, Italy.
3. Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark.
4. Central Restaurante, Lima, Peru.
5. Eleven Madison Park, New York, New York.
6. Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain.
7.��Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London, UK.
8. Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan.
9. D.O.M., Sao Paulo, Brazil.
10. Gaggan, Bangkok, Thailand.

The full list can be seen here.

50 Best, created in 2002 by the British publication Restaurant Magazine, has become a powerful draw for media attention and has emerged as a competitor to the Michelin stars rating. This year, the naming of the pantheon of culinary gods and goddesses from around the globe came with a side order of controversy (paywall). A small movement called Occupy 50 Best, has questioned the methodology of the ranking and called out alleged conflicts of interest for some members of the jury.

Occupy 50 Best criticizes the fact that voters include chefs and agents that have interests in the industry, that the organization gives no information about how the jury is selected, and, especially, that the members are not required to present a restaurant bill to show that they actually have eaten in the restaurants they vote for.

“We are asking them to professionalize themselves, to be more transparent,” said Zoé Reyners, one of the founders of Occupy 50 Best, and a public relations specialist based in Paris.

The campaign has a petition with more than 400 signatures, including some famous chefs such as Francis Mallmann of Argentina, who in 2013 renounced his membership of the jury in frustration with the organization’s procedures.

The 50 Best ranking is drafted by roughly 1,000 food critics, chefs, well-traveled gourmands, and food industry professionals. Unlike the rigorous system that Michelin uses to award its coveted stars—including anonymous inspectors who craft detailed reports examining factors like flower arrangements or table decoration—50 Best doesn’t require its voters to submit justifications or comments.

The organization, which is sponsored by food and drink brands including San Pellegrino and Lavazza, has claimed that the system tries to protect the anonymity of the jury and said that its voting rules clearly specify that the members are not permitted to vote for restaurants they own or have a financial interest in. Quartz has reached out the organization and will update this post with any response.

Julia Pérez, a Spanish food critic and a member of the event’s jury, tells Quartz she agrees with some of the points raised by the “occupy” movement. “The list has a serious problem, and it is opacity,” says Pérez, who sent in her seven votes (at least three of these must be for restaurants outside her home area) secretly, by email. She confirms that the list is based on subjective measures; there is no list of criteria provided by the organization.

But she and other food critics praise the ranking for its forward-looking approach and openness to new culinary trends, which separates it from Michelin’s comparatively stodgy emphasis on high-brow, classic French cuisine.

“Whether you like it or not, it has turned the world of gastronomy upside down,” says Pérez. “It has clearly opted for a global gastronomy and has forced the old Europe to stop navel-gazing.”

Last year’s top 10 included one Danish restaurant crowning the list, three Spanish, two British, two American, one Italian and one Brazilian. This year’s ranking includes restaurants from Japan, Thailand, and Peru. 50 Best has also started regional lists for Asia and Latin America and has brought global attention to restaurants like The Test Kitchen in Cape Town, South Africa.

However, chefs such as Mallmann, who owns the 1884 restaurant in Mendoza, Argentina, have complained that juries tend to reward restaurants located in the most touristy and mainstream cities, while tables that are off the beaten path go unnoticed. And Occupy 50 Best has pointed out that some areas, like the Middle East, are underrepresented.

“There should be a more balanced regional representation,” says Reyners, who notes that of the restaurants on the 50 Best list, 58% are located in western Europe.