The week that was (7 April 2017)

Of course you would have seen the results for this year’s World’s 50 Best. I’m pleased to say Melbourne turned it on, in fact Australia turned it on. My buddies at Rockpool* also turned it on, and did an exceptional job of feeding a room of culinary luminaries a real taste of Australia – our best produce cooked simply but beautifully – a proud moment.

Beyond the chefs, Wine Australia brought 50 of the world’s best somms together to drink our wines and hopefully take our terroir, neatly bottled, back to their restaurants around the world. There was a palpable sense of hospitality everywhere you turned, coupled with that delightful sense of freedom Melbourne offers where you can snack in the streets, smoke a cigarette at the table and then wash it down with a whisky, served neat, after midnight.
As it does every year, the euphoria has quickly descended into the expected criticismswhere are the women; where are the Sydney restaurants; why spend so much of our tourism dollar; are there too many sponsors (I did think serving Italian sparkling in Oz was particularly odd); is this all just spin or, worse, simply a popularity contest? And finally, there are all the issues that come with having a numerical list at all, allegations of a broken judging system and even corruption (the rumour mill suggests that last year, while NYC hosted the event, some restaurants closed to the public for the week, comp-ing meals while, literally, plying the judging panel with champagne and caviar – it is my understanding that there is no requirement to pay for your meal when voting for 50 Best.)
Sadly, I think there are kernels of truth in all of the above, but I don't think this is actually about where you sit on the list as surely there's no more than a bee's dick between one and 50. And this is just one list, it has its own personality, its own goals. There is much to be positive about:
(1) My first ah-ha moment comes with the admission that while I am getting all Pollyanna on you again, I, too, was feeling a little disenchanted going in to this week, a little exhausted by the same conversations, the same questions, the same hero worship. But then I went to a talk hosted by the Roca brothers (those of 2015's number one El Cellar de Can Roca) where Joan referenced a poem by Joan Maragall, a poem that talks of the importance of loving your craft and treating it, irrespective of what it is, as the most important thing there is, a beautiful but simple idea that if everyone approached their profession in this way the world would be a much better place.
It reminded me of a story my Dad told me of his surprise at seeing a bus driver’s crestfallen face after being told he was doing a bad job by a passenger. Every job counts and doing it to the best of your ability turns jobs into professions. The shifted perspective allowed me not to see a room full of wankers, but rather a room full of people trying to be the best they can be. I think that’s important.
(2) I was interested to note the four speakers at the Opera House talks came at that goal from very different angles. For Pete the ingredient was the jumping off point, for Dominique it was about telling a story, for Brett it was all instinct and craft and for Massimo it was about creating a sense of place. It is no secret I adore Massimo and Lara and all the philanthropic work they do through Osteria Francescana. And so perhaps unsurprisingly it’s on Massimo’s thoughts my mind has lingered.
I met Rodolfo Guzman (Boragó) from Chile at the awards. He explained to me, with his earnest but rather beautiful eyes, the way the list had changed his restaurant. He talked of all the years he opened an empty restaurant, indeed the five separate occasions he tried to sell it, and then how that all changed when he made the list. Rodolfo is part Mapuche, an indigenous culture that has existed in Chile for 13,000 years. His cuisine is drawn from their food, the hundreds of varieties of seaweeds off the coast, the way they worked with fire. Rodolfo explained to me that while Chile does not have a strong tradition of dining now, the 50 Best gave him the means to start to put it back on the map, the means to preserve his culinary culture.

History should not just be the domain of academics. Joan Roca described gastronomy as the landscape in the saucepan, for Massimo the key ingredient is the culture and, I think, it is in that combination I think we find the true definition of terroir – a taste of the place and the culture. I think that’s important too.
(3) Finally, to Will Guidara and Daniel Humm, the newly crowned number ones from Eleven Madison Park, NYC. This is a team that celebrates both the front and back of house evenly. Sadly the media, the industry and even these awards, awards that are meant to be about the restaurant, do not do that. Take a look at the list online and you will find a collection of mug shots that only include the chef, to my mind a crazy misunderstanding of what our industry is actually about: conviviality, service, hospitality (even the official pic on the 50 Best site only has EMP chef Daniel in it).
On accepting their award, Will and Daniel talked a lot about their collaboration in the restaurant, the unusual nature of their shared spotlight. Of course this is important acknowledgement for our FOH professionals, but it is also in this wider appreciation of all the work that makes a restaurant run we may find better gender balance (see, for example, this lovely article about Balthazar in NYC). It should be noted those 50 somms gallivanting around the state included both men and women, in equal parts, just as we walk this world, they drank their wine. It's possible, no, it's not just possible, it's fundamental. Showcasing hospitality as the team sport it is should bring that to light. I think that’s very important. 

Please accept my vague, mumbled apologies for another Sunday send. I do hope you’re reading this at the beach or at the very least with a rosé in hand. I will endeavour to return to regular Thursday broadcasting next week, as things settle back down. And, just quietly, it was worth it.