Marketing farce hard to swallow

So it’s Noma, is it? Again? I’m trying very hard to care about the winner of 2014’s world’s 50 best restaurants, thought up as a wheeze by Restaurant magazine, an estimable niche publication that morphs, for one brief week a year, into the most important organ in the whole culinary universe.

“The world’s 50 best” polarises industry observers. There are those of us who look at it askance, questioning how all these “impartial” judges have scored reservations at some of the world’s hardest-to-book tables, managing to finance the travel and restaurant bills themselves. Then there are the chefs and restaurateurs who take the whole thing insanely seriously. A place at the top is excellent for business.

There’s much to enrage and mock: the relatively recent admission that Japan might have something going for it restaurant-wise. The introduction of “Asia’s 50 best” and “Latin America’s 50 best events” – so what does “world’s 50 best” mean? The fact that their best Asian restaurant is run by an Australian. The idea that Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, a dull hotel restaurant, is the fifth best in the world. The tokenistic award for best female chef – where’s the one for best male chef?

As the predictable names scroll by on Twitter – there’s nothing revelatory – I’m stifling a yawn. Yes, the remote Faviken is up 15 places; perhaps they organised a charabanc. But people love a list, even if it’s an unscientific job.

As a marketing exercise for the restaurant business, I suppose “the world’s 50 best” is to be welcomed, although it operates at a rarefied level that doesn’t give a toss about the mom-and-pop joints struggling to stay in business. As a massive marketing exercise for San Pellegrino – if you stopped for a breather in the uncharted heart of the Suriname rainforest, someone would probably offer you a San Pel – it’s a work of genius.

For food bores who like to tick off restaurants on a joyless list, it’s a magnificent circle jerk. But for the normal restaurantgoer, these hyperbolic junkets just feed the fear of missing out and raise expectations – look, Mom, I’m in the best restaurant in the world – that are forever destined to be dashed. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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