If you haven’t read the AOL piece, you can do so now; or after you read this. -mb
Someone said to me yesterday “If you’re skeptical about the ‘best restaurant in the world’ awards, why did you go to Noma”?
It’s a good question. The fact is I’m often slow, perhaps not uncommonly so, but in any case I’m busy, with many things drawing my attention. And I don’t always listen to good advice. In the mid-90s Colman Andrews told me to go to El Bulli; I got there five years later, after Jose Andres and others told me I was a moron for not going earlier.
Two years ago, Dave Chang told me to go to Noma. I responded similarly: I didn’t go.
Yes, I think the ‘best restaurant’ awards are no more than a small step above TripAdvisor and Yelp! (I participated last year and felt completely hypocritical; I declined to participate this year.) And yes, I don’t even think its organizers are asking the right question.
To which at least some of you respond, “Well, Mark, what would the right question be?”
And, although that’s not the point, here’s my answer: The right question is, “What restaurants are we not paying enough attention to?” This question allows you to answer, for example, ‘Chez Palmyre, in Nice,’ which isn’t even the best restaurant in Nice, or the best in the neighborhood, but should not be missed. If you ask that question, and locals have more power in their home area, we could all learn more about restaurants everywhere, and perhaps more meaningfully. But this is a different subject.
The ‘best restaurant’ thing, as currently run, is a popularity contest, not unlike the All-Star Game (and every baseball writer worth his or her netbook will tell you having fans control the selection is nuts). Some of the restaurants on the list aren’t worth visiting, letting alone paying for them with (usually way too much) of your hard-earned money. (I’m not naming them, no.) Another few are so obvious that the Chamber of Commerce can send you there.
There is no best restaurant in the world. René Redzepi knows that as well as anybody, though obviously he’s thrilled about the award. Noma, however, is awesome. (Awesomer than El Bulli? Why decide?)
Still, I owe the award a hat-tip; it got me off my ass and over to Copenhagen. I went because suddenly it was news, because any restaurant that draws enough votes to dethrone El Bulli is worth trying, because Dave Chang got on my case again, and because I wanted to see what the fuss was about. And, yes, because I could – a privilege that I realize most people don’t have. And many of those people were starting to ask me about it, and wanted answers, many of which are in the AOL piece. (If you read that and have specific questions, leave them here; I’ll do my best to answer them.)
So. Yes, I’m skeptical about those awards. But yes, I recognize they have impact. And I’m not a complete idiot.
(Photos of Mark by Jim Nelson)