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Stars shine at World's 50 Best

Jun 26, 2019 7:47 AM

LOTS of new entries, a few women chefs, one Chinese restaurant and a fake chihuahua - these were some of the highlights that brightened up an otherwise run-of-the-mill World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards 2019, held for the first time in Singapore on Tuesday night.

Changes to the voting structure to ensure better gender balance and moving previous number one restaurants out of the main list to give others a better chance to get to the top, saw a more diverse group of restaurants honoured in a glittery ceremony at Marina Bay Sands.

The best restaurant of the world award went to Mirazur in Menton, France - a predictable choice after last year’s top two winners Osteria Francescana and El Cellar de Can Roca were moved to the newly created Best of the Best list, a hall of fame for past best restaurants.

At number three in 2018, Mirazur easily inherited the top spot, to the delight of chef Mauro Colagreco, who was visibly overwhelmed. He later described the moment as a "blackout" where "you see back all your life and all your thoughts and all your happiness".

The second biggest - and unsurprising - triumph of the night went to Noma in Copenhagen, which scored an all-time highest new entry position at number two spot. Thanks to its relocation with an all new dining concept, Noma version 2 is still eligible to take part in the Best 50 awards. What remains to be seen is whether Noma might replace Mirazur next year when the latter is moved to the Best of the Best category.

The new ruling to have a 50-50 gender-balanced voting academy still resulted in four women chefs in the top 50: Pia Leon of Central (number six, with her husband Virgilio Martinez); Daniela Soto-Innes – also World’s Best Female Chef for this year – of Cosme New York, placed at 23 (up from 25); Ana Ros of Hisa Franko in Slovenia which rose from 2018’s new entry position to number 38; and San Francisco-based French chef Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn which made an impressive new entry into the list at 35.

Chef Crenn has been a vocal critic of the gender disparity in the Awards, having previously lambasted the existence of the Best Female Chef Award - despite getting the title in 2016 - by saying: "You can promote women in a different way. It’s stupid. A chef is a chef.” She did not come to Singapore for the ceremony as she is currently receiving medical treatment in the US.

There was also a surprisingly large number of new entries - 12 - including Spain’s Elkano and San Francisco’s Benu. Hong Kong restaurant The Chairman also scored a coup for being only the second Chinese restaurant to break into the top 50 since 2004 - making its debut at number 41. Chef-founder Danny Yip was surprised that his low-profile but much sought-after farm-to-table restaurant was able to get to where it did.

“Maybe the voters felt that it is time for a Chinese restaurant to be recognised again and we just happen to be at the right place at the right time,” he says modestly.

Tokyo’s Restaurant Den was also a big winner, rising from number 17 last year to number 11 to snare the Art of Hospitality award. Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa, who is well known for having his pet chihuahua by his side all the time in Japan, appeared on stage with a soft toy version on his shoulder.

Singapore did well too, with Julien Royer’s Odette climbing from 28 last year to 18. His performance caps off Singapore’s first hosting of The World’s 50 Best as part of a three-year deal with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) which includes holding other Best 50-related events.

“This win by Chef Julien will add to Singapore’s growing reputation as a city that houses some of the best restaurants in the world,” says Ranita Sundra, STB’s director, Retail and Dining. “We hope this will also inspire and spur healthy competition amongst our local chefs and restaurateurs, as they vie for an opportunity to be on the list in future.”

Adds William Drew, director of content for William Reed Business Media: “The Singapore awards is bigger (compared with other host countries). We have more people here than ever. But also the event programme was more extensive with all the collaboration dinners and lunches, all the masterclasses. The talks are open to the public. It’s given both visitors and chefs coming in a taste of Singapore and its great food culture.”

The World’s 50 Best is also a boon for local chefs, says Han Li Guang of Labyrinth who conducted his own farm tours for many of the visiting chefs.

“A lot of chefs have a large social media following, so when they see how exciting Singapore is they might want to make it their next destination. And they can come not just to explore hawkers but alternative, local-centric fine dining as well. It opens doors for us to showcase a wide diversity of concepts and products available.” - Additional reporting by David Yip