And with that he launched into a plea that all of us to join him in the soup kitchen he is opening in the favelas of Rio during the Olympics.
I say all of us – but my guess is he was speaking mainly to the chefs, including the 47 present who were honoured in the list of World’s 50 Best Restaurants, seated under the gilded domed ceiling of the Cipriani Ballroom on New York’s Wall Street.
It’s the first time the awards has not been held in London. Charles Reed, group managing director of William Reed Business Media, who own the brand, explained to me, “It has become truly global - it’s not London centric - and we needed to reflect that.” Next year the awards will be held in Melbourne, Australia.
But the night belonged to Bottura, last year’s number two, whose dishes include “oops i dropped the lemon tart” – a smashed pastry – and “an eel swimming up the River Po”. He takes over the number one spot from Roca Brothers, Joan, Jordi and Josep, of El Celler de Can Roca in Spain.
Osteria Francescana is the first Italian restaurant to hold the position in the awards history – and Bottura underlined the point by brandishing an Italian flag as he accepted his award.The first awards, back in 2002, were the result of a casual bit of office brainstorming at the London offices of Restaurant Magazine. It’s grown into a megalith with nearly a thousand voters worldwide, divided into 27 regions, each of which is headed up by a jury chair. I’m the current chair for the UK and Ireland, the previous incumbents being restaurant critics Jay Rayner and Richard Vines.
Its influence has sky rocketed. In fact, at a dinner the night before the awards, Bottura told me, “Maybe they should call it the World’s 50 Most Influential Restaurants.” It’s the Oscars of the restaurant world, a roll call of the chefs and eateries that people are talking about.
And while you may not care about where foodies are rushing to, if you eat out you will have eaten food that is influenced by those chefs, because they are who legions of other chefs look to. Foams and vegetable caviars? Pioneered by Ferran Adria at El Bulli. Nordic rye and ultra-local ingredients? Rene Redzepi at Noma.
It certainly matters to the restaurants. While Bottura says that he already books out within fifteen minutes of tables at Osteria Francescana being released, when Redzepi first won the award in 2011, there were places available at his restaurant Noma for lunch the next day. By the time he won again the next year, there were over a thousand people on the waiting list for dinner.
Customers fly from around the world to top rated restaurants – Massimo Bottura told me how he recently welcomed a Brazilian couple who had flown to Modena specifically to visit his restaurant Osteria Francescana. World’s 50 Best is said to attract a younger customer thanMichelin stars, but one who is prepared to travel.
It also helps in other ways. I spoke to David Barber, one of the brothers (with chef Dan Barber) behind Blue Hill at Stone Barns, just outsideNew York, and at number 48 on the list. He told me that the day after they entered the list last year at 49, they received a sheaf of CVs from prospective chefs – significant at a time when chefs are in short supply. “The quality of staff we attracted increased. Why wouldn’t they want to work for one of the 50 best restaurants in the world?”
The awards have come in for a fair amount of criticism, especially from the French who feel that their restaurants aren’t well enough represented in the list.
The newly established rival French list, La Liste, backed but not funded by the French government, brings a bit of healthy competition. Theirs is compiled by a computer algorithm of online reviews and guidebooks. It’s flawed, as any system must be, and while World’s 50 Best relies on the votes of individuals, few restaurateurs would really wish to be judged by their TripAdvisor rating. It’s notable that five French chefs make the top 10 in La Liste while there is just one in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants top 10.
This may be about to change, reckons Charles Reed. “The resurgence of the French vote in the 50-100 list [the list of the lower tiers of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants which is released a few weeks earlier] is probably a sign that the French are coming back,” he pointed out. And the lifetime achievement award went to French chef Alain Passard, while the best pastry chef in the world award was presented to macaron king Pierre Hermé.
At the press conference after the awards, Bottura admitted, "my heart is exploding.” Fifteen years ago, he nearly gave up the restaurant, only to be persuaded to carry on by his wife Lara. Then a Michelin inspector came by chance, stranded by a road accident. They won their first Michelin star and never looked back.
He was most affected by the warmth of the other chefs. "There is a community that has been created around 50 Best... We are not in competition with each other." How did it feel to be the first Italian restaurant to hold the award? He grinned. "In Italy we have three things that are untouchable – football, the Pope and food. It’s something so important."
The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2016
1.Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy
2. El Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain
3. Eleven Madison Park, New York, USA
4. Central, Lima, Peru
5. Noma, Copenhagen, Denmark
6. Mirazur, Menton, France
7. Mugaritz, San Sebastian, Spain
8. Narisawa, Tokyo, Japan
9. Steirereck, Vienna, Austria
10. Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Spain
11. D.O.M, Sao Paolo, Brazil
12. Quintonil, Mexico City, Mexico
13. Maido, Lima, Peru
14. The Ledbury, London, UK
15. Alinea, Chicago, USA
16. Azurmendi, Larrabetzu, Spain
17. Piazza Duomo, Alba, Italy
18. White Rabbit, Moscow, Russia
19. Arpege, Paris, France
20. Amber, Hong Kong, China
21. Arzak, San Sebastian, Spain
22. The Test Kitchen, Cape Town, South Africa
23. Gaggan, Bangkok, Thailand
24. Le Bernardin, New York, USA
25. Pujol, Mexico City, Mexico
26. The Clove Club, London, UK
27. Saison, San Francisco, USA
28. Geranium, Copenhagen, Denmark
29. Tickets, Barcelona, Spain
30. Astrid y Gaston, Lima, Peru
31. Nihonryori Ryugin, Tokyo, Japan
32. Restaurant Andre, Singapore
33. Attica, Melbourne, Australia
34. Restaurant Tim Raue, Berlin, Germany
35. Vendome, Bergisch Gladbach, Germany
36. Borago, Santiago, Chile
37. Nahm, Bangkok, Thailand
38. De Librije, Zwolle, Netherlands
39. Le Calandre, Rubano, Italy
40. Relae, Copenhagen, Denmark
41. Faviken, Jarpen, Sweden
42. Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet, Shanghai, China
43. Biko, Mexico City, Mexico
44. Estela, New York, USA
45. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London, UK
46. Combal Zero, Rivoli, Italy
47. Schloss Schauenstein, Furstenau, Switzerland
48. Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantino Hills, USA