Tyranny of Uniformity Rules World’s 50 Best: In A List That Reeks of European Bias, Massimo Back as No. 1; Gaggan Rises to No. 5; Indian Accent Wallows at 90
I JUST LOVED the way Eater.com described the World’s 50 Best Restaurants as “a list famous for its historic exclusion of top female chefs; for its bias toward expensive, European-leaning tasting menu venues; and for not requiring judges to pay for their meals”. A bundle of predictability, hyped up by cities trying to draw higher tourist footfalls (that was clearly the strategy of Bilbao this year) and the restaurants that are a part of this I-scratch-your-back-and-you-scratch-mine club, the list gets the kind of publicity it does because there’s none other in its domain. It’s the polar opposite of the restaurant awards scene here in India, which suffer from a problem of unwanted plenty, barring the recent notable exception of Conde Nast Traveller‘s India’s 50 Best Restaurants.
To be honest, I find Aziz Ansari‘s restaurant discoveries in his must-watch comedy series, Master of None (Netflix), Season 2, more exciting than the World’s 50 Best, which has painted itself into a grand corner and lost all claims to originality. There’s, in fact, another delicious Eater.com story about how Massimo Bottura invited Ansari to his private dining room for a full-on dinner when he heard that a humbler neighbour of his restaurant had been featured by the Golden Globe-winning co-creator of the series as the backdrop of one of the episodes.
Bottura’s Osteria Fracescana (last year’s No. 2), by the way, has dislodged New York’s Eleven Madison Park from its pole position in the 2018 List — most likely because the restaurant was shut for a makeover through much of 2017 — with another former two-time topper, the Catalan restaurant El Celler De Can Roca, taking the second position, followed by Mirazur on the French Riviera (co-owned by the Argentine chef Mauro Colagreco).
Eleven Madison Park is at No. 4 and Gaggan (Bangkok) has gone up by two notches to No. 5 — it’s the only restaurant serving Indian cuisine in the top 50 and the only Asian name in the first 10 — followed, back-to-back, by two Peruvian restaurants, the by-now-famous Central and Maudo, both based out of Lima. At No. 8 and 9 are the two venerables — Alain Passard’s Arpege and Andoni Luis Aduriz’s Mugaritz from the Basque Country — and at No. 10, we have another but not-so-well-known Basque restaurant, Asador Extebarri, which is being hailed for its minimalist grill cooking.
Where are the Indians? Indian Accent makes an appearance at No. 90 — and the rate at which it is slipping, it may not find itself in the Top 100 very soon. It has nothing to do with its food. It’s just the way the World’s 50 Best operates. To lift its position, the Indian Accent management will have to make a major investment in refurbishing the Delhi restaurant or work very hard on its outlets in New York City and London so that one of them, if not both, makes the mark.
Not that the list is not representative enough. We have 33 countries represented on it, although 23 are from Europe and the Americas (with Peru being the one to watch out for). In the case of Asia, the World’s 50 Best jury has again — yet again — shown its deep-rooted bias for the Pacific Rim — India and Turkey being the only exceptions with one restaurant each, although both countries have a vibrant gastronomic tradition and a number of eateries that attract world travellers.
Is there something terribly wrong with Indian haute cuisine? I don’t think so. I believe there’s a case for the World’s 50 Best jury to have a palate cleanser, and open its mind to accepting the reality that there’s a culinary tradition beyond the Modern European, and that Indian cuisine doesn’t have be re-invented to impress western eyes.
You don’t have to go far to test my argument. Just go to the World’s 50 Best site (www.theworlds50best.com) and check out the pictures of the dishes that represent each of the listed restaurants. They all look as if they are the same cookie cutter. This is imperialism of a new kind. It’s the imperialism of sameness demanded by people who are too lazy to grasp the incontrovertible fact that there are culinary cultures beyond what they are familiar with.