For the first time, an Italian restaurant topped the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. After spending the previous three years in the second and third spots, chef Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana in Modena finally took the culinary crown, edging past Spanish powerhouse El Celler de can Roca (the top restaurant in 2013 and 2015) in second place, while 2014 winner Noma slipped to fifth. Instagram faves at Osteria Francescana include the pastry “oops i dropped the lemon tart,” “an eel swimming up the River Po” and the astonishing “five ages of parmigiano reggiano” that explores the regional cheese through texture, temperature and taste.
The 53-year-old chef, whose 12-table restaurant celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, will host a soup kitchen during the Olympics to feed the favelas in Rio. During his acceptance speech, the clearly overjoyed chef said, “It’s all about hard work,” and implored other top chefs to join him in feeding the favela families. Chef Bottura founded the nonprofit Food for Soul earlier this year as a vehicle to help fight hunger and food waste.
Eleven Madison Park jumped two spots to number three, marking the first time a NYC restaurant landed in the Top 3. Chris Sayegh, a.k.a. The Herbal Chef and host of Pot Pie and Braized and Confused, previously worked as a stage (or culinary apprentice) at chef Daniel Humm’s famed restaurant.
Images (left to right): Osteria Francescana, El Celler de can Roca, Eleven Madison Park, Central and Noma.
Now for a trivia question: What was the only city to score two entries in the Top 20? Paris, London, NYC, Tokyo? It was Lima, the capital of Peru in South America. The arguably overrated Central held the No. 4 spot for a second year, while the Japanese-Peruvian (i.e., Nikkei) restaurant Maido jumped 31 spots to No. 13, earning the award for the highest climber. Lima’s most famous restaurant, Astrid y Gastón, fell 16 spots to No. 30. The latter’s drop is surprising since founder Gastón Acurio came out of retirement to retake the reins from departing chef Diego Muñoz. The trailblazing AyG was the first Peruvian restaurant ever to make the list.
An equally notable drop occurred with Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand. Last February, the famed Indian restaurant topped the affiliated Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list for a second year, and only a few months later, Gaggan dropped 13 spots to No. 23 on the world list.
Started by the trade magazine Restaurant in London, the World’s 50 Best Awards launched in 2002, and today approximately 1,000 tastemakers across 27 regions vote on the restaurants. Many experts regard 50 Best and the Michelin system out of France as the most prestigious rankings, though the French claim discrimination against its chefs on the British list, and vice versa. The Michelin system is based on stars, not rankings, so the French Foreign Ministry launched the Top 1000 Le Liste earlier this year. Le Liste put five French chefs in the Top 10, while only two restaurants in the United Kingdom landed in the Top 200. Lima also fared poorly on the French list with Central at No. 623 and Astrid y Gaston at No. 802. France has never topped the World’s 50 Best list, but the U.K. did in 2005 with The Fat Duck.
Nevertheless, for the first time in five years, a French restaurant cracked the Top 10 on the World’s 50 Best list. Mirazur in Menton jumped five spots to No. 6, though chef Mauro Colagreco is an Argentine-Italian who does not cook traditional French fare. The highest truly French restaurant, Alain Passard’s iconic Arpège, dropped seven spots to No. 19, though Passard did win The Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award last night.
The U.S. ultimately landed six restaurants on the list with Eleven Madison Park at No. 3, Chicago’s Alinea at No. 15, NYC’s Le Bernardin at No. 24, San Francisco’s Saison at No. 27, NYC’s Estela at No. 44 and the underrated Blue Hill at Stone Barns near Sleepy Hollow in New York at No. 48. Notably missing from the 50 Best, however, are Thomas Keller’s famed French Laundry in California and Per Se in NYC. Last January, the New York Times downgraded Per Se from a perfect four stars to a middling two, comparing the flavors in one dish to bong water. In the 2016 rankings, Per Se dropped 12 spots to No. 52, while French Laundry—ranked the No. 1 restaurant in the world on the 2003 and 2004 lists—nosedived 35 spots to No. 85. Keller is a French chef, and ironically, the aforementioned Le Liste ranked Per Se as the world’s second best restaurant.