As the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, which took place in Antwerp, Belgium, this October, show, global dining is back with a bang.
Due to continuing Covid regulations, the number of chefs and restaurateurs from Asia who could attend the ceremony was limited, but the awards continued in full technicolour glory in a hybrid event after a year’s hiatus.
Covid-19 shook the F&B world. It was a time of self-reflection and taking stock, and asking questions about how the industry – and humanity – could do things differently.
Global dining’s biggest trends today are a result of this increased awareness and understanding that business cannot go on as usual.
Plant-based dining experienced a watershed year. In June, Daniel Humm, chef-owner of Eleven Madison Park, one of the world’s most lauded restaurants, reopened his New York City icon with an entirely plant-based menu.
While not taking as brave a step as Humm by putting all their (plant-based) eggs in one basket, other top chefs are opening vegetarian or vegan side projects. Rasmus Kofoed, the head chef of Geranium in Copenhagen, Denmark – No. 2 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants this year – runs a plant-based pop-up named Angelika within the restaurant.
Andreas Caminada, chef-owner of Switzerland’s Schloss Schauenstein, No. 49 on the list, opened a 10-seater vegetarian kitchen in June. Oz, situated next to the castle that houses his main restaurant, has access to the over 700 species of plants he grows in the restaurant’s garden.
Plans are also afoot to turn the mezzanine level of The Jane, the two-star Michelin Antwerp hotspot owned by chef Nick Bril, into a vegan kitchen.
In addition, many other top chefs have reduced the number of animal proteins on their existing menus. Richard Ekkebus, executive chef at Hong Kong’s Amber, for example, includes the percentage of plant-based (PB) ingredients versus animal protein (AP) in his recipes. He aims to keep the ratio at 75 per cent plant-based and 25 per cent animal protein.
“This shifts a little depending on the season. In spring and summer, when we have many options, this pulls more towards PB. In autumn and winter, it is a little heavier on AP. But the balance through the year is pretty much on the money,” he says.
Since 2018, Dominique Crenn of San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn has famously been meat- (but not seafood-) free. In an unexpected move she is reintroducing it, but with a caveat: she intends to be the first US chef to serve lab-grown chicken.
Linked to to the growing trend of plant-based cooking, sustainability is now a central, if not essential, consideration in fine dining kitchens. Chefs are increasingly sourcing locally, and reducing waste and plastic packaging.
Humm says: “I realised that not only has the world changed, but that we have changed as well. The current food system is simply not sustainable.”
The industry is rewarding chefs for their environmental credentials. While World’s 50 Best Restaurants has had a Sustainability Award since 2017, Michelin launched its Green Star for environmental and sustainable practices last year. Three-starred chef Massimo Bottura of Osteria Francescana described the move as “starting a revolution”. Asia now has 25 Green stars. Japan has 16; Mainland China, 2; South Korea, 2; Taipei and Taichung, 2; Hong Kong, 1; and Thailand, 1.
MENTAL AND GENDER BALANCE
The global shortage of kitchen and front- of-house staff is a stark reminder of what anyone in the industry knows: working conditions must improve. The hospitality industry has a bad reputation due to long working hours, high stress, and aggressive management in some kitchens.
Even Rene Redzepi, founder of Noma in Copenhagen, voted the best restaurant in the world five times, including this year, has been doing some soul-searching.
“We need to be the best place to work,” he says. “Despite its trials and tribulations, the pandemic was an incredible moment to plan and figure out how to be the best – have the best creativity and energy but also allow everyone to work and have children and support families in a way that gives balance. How can we have less productivity and more creativity? We’re chopping away 12 months of the year, with creativity an afterthought. How do we reverse this?”
There is also an increasing awareness of sexism in the kitchen. While the number of women chefs is increasing, male chefs still get most of the attention.
However, things are changing, says Pia Leon of Kjolle in Lima, Peru, who was just named World’s Best Female Chef 2021. “It’s getting better for women. An award like this is necessary. I hope in two to three years that we don’t need these awards specifically for women. For now, I think it’s necessary to make the work of women visible,” she says.
RISE OF AFRICA
The world of fine dining has long looked to French cooking as the zenith of the culinary arts. Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and in recent years, the New Nordic cuisine as defined by Noma, have also been a massive influence on global dining. But African food?
London’s Michelin-starred Ikoyi – by Nigeria-born Ire Hassan-Odukale and British-born Chinese-Canadian chef Jeremy Chan – just won the prestigious World’s 50 Best One to Watch award. Although the restaurant defies categories, it uses West African spices and other ingredients and has shone a light on the region’s cuisine in the fine dining scene.
London also now has Akoko, a more clearly defined West African fine dining restaurant that blends tradition with innovation.
Another culinary force driving global awareness of African food is Ghana-based chef Selassie Atadika who runs Midunu, a nomadic dining experience she describes as New African Cuisine. She also has a range of Ghanaian chocolates available in the US and Canada.
The World’s 50 Best Restaurants will hold their first-ever Middle East and North Africa awards in February, adding to the stable of global, Asian and Latin American awards.
Cooking over live flames is a trend that keeps burning brighter. Top chefs around the world are cooking everything from Northern Thai classics to Flemish seafood on the grill.
Basque cook Victor Arguinzoniz of Asador Etxebarri, which sits in third place on the World’s 50 Best list, even smokes ice cream. He has designed his own grills with a system of pulleys to move whatever he is grilling or smoking closer to or further away from the heat.
Australian chef Dave Pynt of Burnt Ends in Singapore has designed his own grills based on the work of Asador Etxebarri, while in London, Welsh chef Tomos Parry cooks Basque-inspired plates over a specially built wood-fire at Brat.
Chef Willem Hiele built the outdoor fireplace and smoker at his eponymous restaurant in Belgium with his own hands. He invites guests to enjoy at least one dish in his multi-course tasting menu fireside, weather permitting.
Arguinzoniz links the appeal of cooking over fire to a move back to tradition. “People are now looking for traditional flavours again and cooking over fire is an ancestral way of cooking,” he says.
- Andreas Caminada
- Asador Etxebarri
- Atelier Crenn
- Burnt Ends
- Daniel Humm
- Dave Pynt
- Dominique Crenn
- Eleven Madison Park
- Jeremy Chan
- Nick Bril
- plant-based foods
- Rene Redzepi
- Richard Ekkebus
- Schloss Schauenstein
- The Jane
- Tomos Parry
- Victor Arguinzoniz
- Willem Hiele