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