PLATE UP

As the World’s 50 Best Restau­rant Awards heads to Aus­tralia for the first time, Ker­rie McCal­lum in­ves­ti­gates the culi­nary land­scape.

VOGUE Australia - - News -

As the World’s 50 Best Restau­rant Awards heads to Aus­tralia for the first time, Vogue in­ves­ti­gates the culi­nary land­scape.

Chefs. There can be no de­bat­ing they are the rock stars of the gas­tro­nomic world. Throw 50 of the most cre­ative, charis­matic and some­what crazy men on the planet in a well-fed and lu­bri­cated room and watch the fire­works be­gin: wel­come to the World’s 50 Best Restau­rant awards.

It is a heady cel­e­bra­tion of gas­tron­omy, tal­ent, may­hem and tight tuxe­dos and this month it’ll be held in Aus­tralia for the first time. But what does this mean for our ever-ex­pand­ing food in­dus­try, and where does this place us on the culi­nary map? And, more in­trigu­ingly, why have only a few fe­male chefs ever made the list?

Con­sid­ered the an­nual barom­e­ter of the great­est food and wine ex­pe­ri­ences around the globe right now, the list is se­lected by the World’s 50 Best Res­tau­rants Academy. Com­pris­ing 26 re­gions, each with 40 mem­bers, this panel of more than 1,000 in­de­pen­dent re­view­ers spends 12 months eat­ing its way around the world, to de­ter­mine a peck­ing or­der that changes liveli­hoods.

For the first time in the event’s 15-year his­tory, it will be held in Aus­tralia, at Mel­bourne’s Royal Ex­hi­bi­tion Build­ing on April 5, at­tract­ing lu­mi­nar­ies such as in­cum­bent num­ber one Mas­simo Bot­tura (of Italy’s Os­te­ria Frances­cana), Noma’s René Redzepi and He­ston Blu­men­thal. For the awards spon­sor Tourism Aus­tralia, the in­vest­ment is all part of a mas­ter plan to se­cure the world’s at­ten­tion via the Restau­rant Aus­tralia cam­paign, to plant our coun­try in the hearts and minds of po­ten­tial trav­ellers as a pre­mier food des­ti­na­tion. And even though we know it, the rest of the world isn’t there yet.

Since the launch of Restau­rant Aus­tralia (in­clud­ing the In­vite the World to Din­ner cam­paign in 2014, as well as the Noma Aus­tralia pop-up at Baranga­roo in 2016), spend­ing on food and wine in Aus­tralia has grown by $886 mil­lion. Aus­tralia now ranks num­ber six in the world (up from 10 prior the cam­paign) for food and wine, as per­ceived by those who haven’t trav­elled here be­fore.

Ac­cord­ing to the Fink Group’s John Fink, one of the coun­try’s pre­mier restau­ra­teurs, who’s be­hind Syd­ney’s Quay, Ben­ne­long, Otto, Fire­door and the Bridge Room, it’s a win for Aus­tralia. “I would reckon the awards are the Os­cars of the in­ter­na­tional food scene. The list is voted and se­lected by an in­ter­na­tional academy of peers. It’s no slouch to be ad­mit­ted on the list, that is for sure, and gain­ing such recog­ni­tion from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity is hum­bling.”

Fink’s Quay, un­der Peter Gil­more, has been one of our high­es­trank­ing res­tau­rants on the list. “Aus­tralia al­ready has a good culi­nary rep­u­ta­tion in the north­ern hemi­sphere,” he says. “Hav­ing the ‘ Os­cars of food’ come to town will in­crease in­ter­na­tional fo­cus on the Aus­tralian scene. Aus­tralia is hav­ing a culi­nary com­ing-of-age re­vival lately, and the world is watch­ing with a keen eye.”

Like any con­sid­er­able in­vest­ment of time and money, the awards are not free of con­tro­versy. A break­away group chal­lenged the le­git­i­macy of the awards in 2015. There is also the oft-asked ques­tion of why so few fe­male chefs make the top 50. In fact, a spe­cial award had to be cre­ated to ac­knowl­edge women – Slove­nia’s Anna Roš, of the restau­rant Hiša Franko, has been named world’s best fe­male chef for 2017.

In­ter­est­ingly, Aus­tralia’s top-ranked chef is from nei­ther Syd­ney or Mel­bourne. Brett Gra­ham of the Led­bury in Lon­don ranked 14 last year (down from 10). The Novo­cas­trian moved to Lon­don af­ter win­ning the Josephine Pig­no­let Award and opened his Not­ting Hill eatery at the age of 25. Other Aus­tralian res­tau­rants that have re­cently made the list are At­tica (cur­rently ranked 33) and, in the 51–100 list, Sepia and Brae.

While Aus­tralia’s re­mote­ness makes rank­ing chal­leng­ing, host­ing the awards should give lo­cal chefs the op­por­tu­nity for ex­po­sure, and many are look­ing for­ward to it. At­tica’s Ben Shewry says: “It will be a great hon­our and priv­i­lege to share what all of us lo­cals know al­ready –what an in­cred­i­bly di­verse and de­li­cious cul­ture Aus­tralia is.” Bon ap­petit!

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