The World Restaurant Awards – a celebration of the diversity of the food world, not another list

When World Restaurant Awards were born, in some food circles people started complaining: “Oh, not another list, please!” There are quite some lists of the world’s best restaurants (too many, yes), but The World Restaurant Awards is definitely not one of them. This was explained many times and yet, when award ceremony was behind us and winners of the awards were announced (and it was even clearer that it was not a list), there were still people asking around: “Why do we need another list?” and “why do we need a tattoo-free chef award?” Minds work better when they are open and not conditioned by preconceptions. So please open your mind now and enter into the world of the World Restaurant Awards. Let’s put it simple:

The first restaurant list, when it appeared, was amazing. It was finally a way to give recognition to the restaurants and chefs who did fantastic things but were, in some cases, not yet so recognised by Michelin and other guides because they were too avant-garde. The first list was an ode to creativity, youthfulness, experimentation and revolution in the restaurant world. Then other lists were born, with not much sense anymore – it just seemed everybody wanted his/her own list, and the old ones started repeating themselves too. Excitement has gone, and we started seeing at all those different lists mostly the same people again and again. Many of those people I really love and respect and I believe they do amazing things, but why is one of them better than others and why is it so hard for the new names to enter the lists? What are the criteria for judgement? How can you say if apples are better than grapes? I love good apples the same as I love good grapes or good strawberries. And then, talking of grapes or other fruits there is another dilemma – which variety of grape is better and in which terroir? Why not simply enjoying the beautiful diversity without comparison and celebrate what stands out? I think, the love for fruit (pardon food), scattered in Joe Warwick a wish to simply award those who made a special impact in each year instead of creating another list.

Andrea Petrini & Joe Warwick. Photo: WRA

Joe Warwick has been one of the founders of World’s 50 best restaurants, he wrote the original article in 2002 and was the editor from 2004 – 2007. He left the 50 best later on and worked on other projects, between them were three editions of the amazing guide “Where chefs eat” which includes a big diversity of restaurants – from humble eateries to the haute cuisine. While working on that, he started thinking of another, better way of awarding talent and work of the chefs and restaurateurs. A way that would celebrate diversity and put into spotlight also less known places or less fashionable places, deserving spotlight for all the right reasons. “I started talking to Justin Clarke, now Managing Director of Culinary for IMG, then with Taste Festivals (who I did some work for) about my idea for The World Restaurant Awards about 12 years ago. Justin was the key person in making it happen. I later asked Andrea Petrini, who I knew from the 50 Best if he’d like to be involved and he said yes. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own and knew we’d be a good team,” remembers Joe Warwick.  Andrea Petrini, as one of the greatest talent hunters and supporters in the restaurant world, legendary food journalist/cultural reporter and the godfather of many of today most acclaimed chefs of the younger generation, the “father” of Gelinaz and many other initiatives, was a perfect match. That’s how The World Restaurant Awards were born.

Andrea Petrini opening The World Restaurant Awards ceremony. Photo: Andreja Lajh

Joe and Andrea selected 100 people worldwide (from 38 countries and with a strict balance between men and women), passionate food people who travel enough to have their palate and minds developed and open enough to be able to confidently recognise the most interesting and deservings spots also outside of the existing lists. This is how the judging panel was created. Passion and love for food, without cynicism, but with a deep understanding were the strongest criteria when choosing the members for the judging panel. People as passionate as Joe Warwick himself, who has been working in the restaurants himself and so he knows the business into depth: “I spent a decade working in restaurants from pot-washing, via low-grade chef, to waiter and restaurant manager. I have huge respect for anyone that spends their life working in restaurants, particularly those that work front-of-house. Hell is dealing with difficult customers.”

The awards are named big and small plates. Some award names – like “tattoo-free chef” and “tweezer-free kitchen” were deeply misunderstood by people who take everything too literary.  Tattoo-free is a symbol of not following trends, and tweezer-free is about simple natural approach to cooking and plating. Also – don’t expect the tattoo-free chef award to be there ten years. The jury is meeting every year in a workshop where we decide together which awards the food world needs and deserves at that moment in time. Some awards will remain, some will be replaced by the new categories. Does it make more sense now?

Who were this year’s award winners?
Kobus van der Merwe of Wolfgat restaurant. Photo: Andy Hughes

Big plates

Restaurant of the Year

& Off-Map Destination

Winner: Wolfgat, Paternoster | South Africa

Arrival of the Year

Winner: InuaTokyo | Japan

Atmosphere of the Year

Winner: VespertineLos Angeles | United States

Collaboration of the Year

Winner: Paradiso X GortnanainCork | Ireland

Enduring Classic

Winner: La Mère BrazierLyon | France

Ethical Thinking

Winner: Refettorio (Food For Soul), Various locations | Italy

Event of the Year

Winner: Refugee Food Festival, Paris (and worldwide) | France

House Special

Winner: Lido 84 (Cacio e Pepe), Lombardy | Italy

Forward Drinking

Winner: MugaritzSan Sebastian | Spain

No Reservations Required

Winner: MocotóSão Paulo | Brazil

Original Thinking

Winner: Le ClarenceParis | France

Small plates

Instagram Account of the Year

Winner: Alain Passard (@alain_passard), Paris | France

Long-Form Journalism

Winner: Lisa Abend, The Food Circus | Fool Magazine

Red-Wine Serving Restaurant

Winner: Noble Rot, London | United Kingdom

Tattoo-Free Chef

Winner: Alain Ducasse, Paris | France

Trolley of the Year

Winner: Ballymaloe House, Cork | Ireland

Tweezer-Free Kitchen

Winner: Bo.Lan, Bangkok | Thailand


Joe’s main motivation to create this awards was “…to do something new, something different that hadn’t been done before. An international award that considers restaurants as a culture, that moves beyond looking only at luxury destinations and properly examines the depth and diversity of dining around the world. To create a collaborative platform that can do some good, that can inspire environmental and social responsibility, that celebrates what’s great about the restaurant industry as it is and hints at how it can be better.”

Looking at this year’s award winners, did he reach his goals? I would say he definitely did. And this is not another list. Big congratulations to all the award winners and long live The World Restaurant Awards!
Photo: Andy Hughes

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