If you didn’t know anything about food or geography and read the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, announced this week in London, you might assume that we live in a very small world. Over half of the top 20 best restaurants are European, including Geranium, which succeeded another Danish restaurant, Noma, as the world’s #1.
The global awards are considered to be one of the most prestigious in the world of food, and as a publication, Bon Appétit will probably continue to cover it [editor’s note: we will]. But here’s my proposal: Let’s start treating the 50 Best List like food media’s rich, out-of-touch uncle. You can picture him, right? He randomly shows up at your door every year wearing overpriced cologne and a really loud shirt, endlessly bragging about all the ten-course tasting menus he’s experienced around the world. (Fact check: he only went to Italy.) He’s not afraid to empty his bank account at expensive restaurants that he read about in Delta’s in-flight magazine, and Screaming Eagle is his favorite wine. (He calls it his “jam.”)
The prix fixe at Copenhagen’s Geranium is a modest $437 per person—a drop in the bucket for Rich Uncle, a small price to pay for the privilege of loading up his iPhone with fancy food porn to impress all his jetsetting friends. Have you ever tried squirrel garum? Didn’t think so! We’re all so accustomed by now to awkwardly sitting around the table while Rich Uncle shows us endless pics of dehydrated insects made into gelato and microscopic pieces of smoked ostrich saddle set atop mossy tree stumps. Sure, you’d go with him—after you cross-check the restaurant’s reputation with more reliable sources and make sure he’s paying.
Rich Uncle would never dream of visiting India or spending more than a few days in any part of Africa—unless it’s on safari, of course. That might explain why only one restaurant in the Top 20 is from the entire continent of Asia—Tokyo’s Den at #20, ironic considering so much of modern fine dining pulls from Japanese kaiseki traditions. India, the second most populous country in the world, has a grand total of zero restaurants in the Top 50, and Africa, perennially absent from the list, is underrepresented yet again. FYN in Cape Town, South Africa was the exception; it debuted this year at #37. None of the trio of FYN’s “lead explorers” are Black.
And don’t worry, Rich Uncle knows that women are capable of cooking in fancy restaurants, too. That’s why he created a separate award for the World’s Best Female Chef. Please don’t ask him why this year’s Best Female Chef Leonor Espinosa De La Ossa’s restaurant, Leo in Bogota, Colombia, barely cracked the Top 50 list at #48.
Ranking restaurants is subjective, and we can’t all agree with Rich Uncle’s taste. I’ve personally had the pleasure of dining at the #14 ranked restaurant in the world, Don Julio—an excellent legacy steakhouse in Buenos Aires that, with all due respect, may very well not even be the best restaurant in its own city. It’s a lot like arguing that Peter Luger Steak House is not just the best restaurant in New York City but also the best restaurant in America. Luger is neither. But Rich Uncle loves it.
The problem is that the 50 Best List presents itself as an exhaustive exploration of the world’s great culinary regions, but its methodology is opaque. In reality, the list is often a curated collection of dining opinions amassed by judges who went on some very flashy press trips or were romanced by glitzy tourism boards.
Here’s the thing about food media’s Rich Uncle: he’s not going anywhere. He’s mostly harmless, and as hard as we may try, we can’t quite look away when he starts telling us about the best restaurants in the entire world. The worst part of the 50 Best isn’t the ceremony itself (no matter how fraught the results often are), but how breathlessly we talk about it every year. I’d humbly suggest that when we’re all hard-refreshing Twitter to see which new Nordic restaurant wins next time around, let’s remind ourselves that Rich Uncle is always a little drunk on privilege. We should always take his food opinions with a very expensive grain of salt.