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What you do not know about fancy restaurant awards

There is more to prestigious listings than world-class food, great service and a good ambience

Location can prove to be a deterant 

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The frothiest cup of coffee I have ever sipped on was at the Tipfü resort in Kigwema village, nestled in the mountains of Nagaland. One of the waiters noticed that I would sit at the same table at the same time every day and order coffee. They would keep a steaming cup ready. Their food, hospitality and unmatched ambience deserve wider recognition but such small establishments rarely make it to award lists.

Last month, top chefs and restaurants were honoured on platforms like Food Superstars by India-focused Culinary Culture, Times Food Awards, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants and World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Some, such as Masque and Indian Accent, figure on the lists consistently. New names are rare. So, what determines who gets on to these lists?

Location is key. A restaurant in Goa, Kerala or Nagaland with world-class food and impeccable service may not get visits from every jury member. Food writer and restaurant critic Antoine Lewis says a substantial number of jury members are required to have visited a place to judge it. A restaurant which has the advantage of a prime location, like Delhi or Mumbai, can also “game the system”, he says, inviting jury members for meals and creating a buzz in the media.

The selection process generally involves anonymous dining and voting. World’s 50 Best Restaurants, for example, has a confidential voting system by a panel set up by region-based chairpersons. Rashmi Uday Singh, who has been a chairperson for the subcontinent for 17 years, says the process is audited by Deloitte.

Lewis says there are always some broad parameters, such as food, ambience and service. Apart from these, a jury member has to consider the aim of the awards: whether it’s about honouring chefs, recognising talent or promoting gastro tourism. Michelin Guide confers stars to restaurants “to foster a culture of travel and eating out”. World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants promote gastro tourism, while maintaining a balance between contenders. One yardstick is price points; the name of a local sweet shop with iconic status will not be placed alongside premium dining restaurants.  

The impact of the awards differs too. Culinary Culture CEO Raaj Sanghvi offers the example of chef Mauro Colagreco. In January 2019, he received the third Michelin star for his restaurant, Mirazur, in France. That June, his restaurant was rated No.1 in World’s 50 Best. “For him,” says Sanghvi, “the third Michelin star was about prestige in the chef’s community. But when the latter happened, it was booked for a year.”

Awards have limitations despite the occasional surprise—such as the inclusion of the septuagenarian street food legend, Jay Fai of Bangkok, who holds one Michelin star. The good thing, Lewis notes, “is (that though awards) may not necessarily go to the best guys, it’s highly unlikely that a bad restaurant will get awarded”.

Also read | How to explore Goa like a chef

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