Did the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list change its method to appease chefs’ egos?

Next week the listing of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants will be announced (restaurants ranked 51-120 were announced a few days ago). Early this year we reported on changes to the selection process of the World’s 50 Best rankings of restaurants. The new method was ostensibly a response to criticism that the rankings heavily favored European or European-inspired establishments that were mostly run by white men, and that the changes would allow for more diversity in the list. But that may have just been cover for a more nefarious reason to tinker with the rules: a new report suggests that instead, the shift was made to protect the egos of a handful of top chefs

50 best restaurants

According to the story from Lisa Abend of Time, it was a small group of top chefs (including several former winners), not list organizers, that promoted the biggest change to the rules. Beginning with this year’s awards, former winners are no longer eligible to win or even to be recognized as one of the World’s 50 Best. Instead, the winners each year will be added to a list called “Best of the Best.” While rotating out former winners can be viewed as a way to make room for other candidates to rise to the top, it also has the effect of preventing winners from sliding back down the rankings, potentially damaging their reputation. 

It was this fear that allegedly prompted a few chefs to suggest and then advocate for the change. Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, named the 2017 World’s Best Restaurant, gave credence to this idea. He told Abend that some chefs would feel angry and “mistreated” when their restaurants fell in the rankings, while others would even fall into depression.

As Eater explains, allowing such a small group of chefs to “push for such a fundamental change driven in part by feelings is particularly noteworthy given that World’s 50 Best has previously brushed aside other attempts at inclusivity, arguing the sanctity of its voting body means it simply doesn’t have to do anything.” 

Hélène  Pietrini, Director of The  World’s 50 Best Restaurants,  denies that the organization was forced into the rule change.  “It was not a quick decision. I know there are rumors that we were pressured into it,” she told Abend. But she insisted that “at the end of the day, the decision was ours alone. And we would not have made that decision without a long-term plan.”

This is not the first time the World’s 50 Best Restaurants has faced criticism. Since there is no prohibition against lobbying, or even a requirement that the voters, who are mostly well-known industry professionals, pay for the meals that they eat, some tourist boards (and even some restaurants) have “subsidized expensive junkets to bring jurors to their tables,” according to Abend. The fact that so few restaurants outside Europe and the US have made the list has also been a source of consternation in and out of the industry.

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