It’s a very restricted list: out of 200 names, only 100 are elected, but only one can reach the top of the world ranking. Since it appeared in 2017, The Best Chef award has become an obsession among cooks around the world: “will I be among the best this year?”.
In the days leading up to the gala that precedes the announcement — this year, held for the first time in Madrid — chefs from around the world pack their bags and take flights (some of them a lot) to be in the audience and be captured by cameras for a few seconds while his caricature is finally presented on a big screen.
“Seconds” is not a force of expression, no: you have to be attentive. If he blinks, the chef can run the risk of not even proving that he was really among the few chosen by a select group of 150 jurors who have in their hands the power to elect this list of gastronomic Olympus.
At this year’s event, there was another issue that brought even more emotion to the moment: many people could not even identify this or that name by the features of the caricature that was presented on the screen. “Is it Rene?” “No, that can only be Heston, look at the glasses”, you heard.
In its short time of existence, The Best Chef has managed to become quite relevant in the culinary scene — and generate an almost viral commotion around itself. By awarding Spanish media chef Dabiz Muñoz for the second time, the award also made headlines in newspapers around the world and shares on Instagram.
If many people say that the 50 Best (the famous award that recognizes the best restaurants in the world) is the Oscar of gastronomy, we could say that The Best Chef is closer to the Golden Globes — but here the role of the “director” is more important than the “movie”.
Vote of lovers
The award was created by a couple with no great history in gastronomy: Joanna Slusarczyk is a Polish neuroscientist and her partner, Cristian Gadau, an Italian gastronome who has always had the goal of creating a “community of food lovers”.
In 2017, they thought it was time: they asked hundreds of people in the area to vote for their favorite chefs. They did the tabulation and, in the end, they arrived at the Spaniard Joan Roca, who returned to the podium again the following year.
Also in 2018, they decided to annually include a list of 100 other new names, to make the competition more fierce. Among known and newbies, 200 chefs are pre-elected. This ‘shortlist’ is announced every year at the end of April.
Voting takes place in an easy and mathematical way: the votes of the 150 professionals are counted – an anonymous jury, composed of gastronomic journalists or personalities with extensive knowledge of gastronomy – and of the 100 best chefs in the current ranking, in addition to the 100 new applicants.
Final choices take place in May through an online poll; each person can vote for 10 chefs, in order of preference — whose ratings range from 100 to 10. In this voting system, chefs’ choices have greater weight (60%), meaning they have a more decisive influence.
From chef to chef
Our award is a way to allow chefs to honor their peers”, says Gadau.
In other words, an award focused on the figure of the chef, a novelty in a market that historically has always privileged restaurants and other businesses. “We are a people prize,” says Slusarczyk.
In recent years, The Best Chef has also included awards in special categories, ranging from Pastry Chef to Legacy Chef, including new talent and those focused on the intersection of food and science.
Only chefs recognized in these categories take the stage. The 99 others on the list watch everything from their chairs, not being able to enjoy more than the seconds of fame of their faces and names on the big screen — stoked by upbeat music and video clip editing.
That’s why being at the awards counts: that’s where they can show their peers that they’re in the select group. They take pictures on the red carpet, interact with teammates, shake hands, exchange cards.
There is also a large group of chefs who are not on the list, but who want to be present. “It’s important to be here, among the best. It’s been intense,” says chef Santiago Fernandez Benedetto, from the Silvestre restaurant in Costa Rica. He arrived three days before the awards to make the most of it.
out of the party
In addition to the much-anticipated gala, The Best chef organizes two events to take advantage of the famous presences: Area Talks, with discussions on important topics in the world of gastronomy (such as war and political correctness), and Food Meets Science, which asks cooks and professionals to present innovative ideas and projects.
But, of course, parallel programs of tastings, meetings and collaborative dinners are created. Brazilian chef Janaína Rueda, from the restaurants Bar da Dona Onça and A Casa do Porco, a regular at these events, had an unofficial dinner with Juanjo López at the chef’s restaurant, La Tasquita de Enfrente.
“I made a feijoada using pata negra pork, something fancy”, says the chef at the gala. Other Brazilian chefs were also present, such as Alberto Landgraf and Alex Atala, the two included in the list – in positions 46 and 10, respectively.
Atala was also one of the guests at one of the Area Talks tables that talked about cooking and war. “Food is a potent tool for transformation. We know how conflicts affect people around the world, and how food can give them dignity,” he said, citing the Ukrainian War on drug trafficking in the Amazon.
The chef was also mentioned in a parody sung by the night’s presenter, artist Carlos Latre, during an impersonation of singer Julio Iglesias. “Every chef, every award, we can hear the kitchen play,” he roared. “We can feel when the chef is there.” Tonight, in fact, a few hundred of them.