The 18th edition of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, held in Singapore this June, was a three-day-long affair – and discussions on hot topics like gender equality and kitchen culture were just as exciting as the winners’ list.
Kitchen culture evolves
The results from the World’s 50 Best Restaurants event in Singapore have been published and shared far and wide in recent weeks. But perhaps an even more interesting component of the three-day-long event was Kitchen Karma, part of the #50BestTalks series in which industry leaders discuss emerging issues. Singapore saw a lively panel discussion featuring acclaimed chefs Éric Ripert, Ana Roš, Tetsuya Wakuda, Daniela Soto-Innes and Massimo Bottura.
One issue that was heavily discussed was workplace culture in the kitchen, and the shift in recent years from a negative environment to a more nurturing one. Not so long ago, harsher practices in the kitchen were rife. Wakuda likened the kitchen environment to that of an army, with a rigid hierarchical structure. Ripert, of restaurant Le Bernardin, recalled emulating his chef mentors, screaming and throwing plates of food as a young chef, to the point of “terrorising” his staff.
“The idea was to take some young [chefs] in the kitchen, break them mentally and morally, [then] rebuild them as champions,” he said of the rationale.
However Ripert admits that it was not the best of methods – he soon realised that the team was “miserable” and morale was low. “A cook that is shaking [in fear] will never do a better job than a chef that is eager to cook and gains enormous pleasure from cooking,” he said.
A nurturing environment
In recent years, education and exposure has resulted in an environment which is based on respect.
Soto-Innes, who was the recipient of this year’s World’s Best Female Chef – the youngest ever at just 28 years old – said that she makes a conscious effort to focus on the individual, rather than speaking to her staff as a group, which was what she had experienced in the past.
In her own restaurant Cosme, in New York, she takes it upon herself to get to know each of her staff – this way, her team can “work towards [her] vision, but with their own identity”.
Osteria Francescana’s founder Massimo Bottura echoed this mindset, and his belief in a two-way relationship. “These guys are passionate, devoted and they give their lives to the restaurant. You have to be a leader and help them.”
The chefs have also developed new approaches in training the next generation of chefs. Ripert emphasises the importance of individualised training. “We customise the way we are teaching and interacting with the staff, to make sure that it’s not a robotic formula.”
Bottura goes even further, basing his approach on independent learning, encouraging creativity and ideas from his chefs. “We are trying to teach younger apprentices how to think, how to transform ideas into edible bites,” he says.
Inclusivity in restaurants
Inclusivity was another issue that was broached during the talks.
Ripert observed that media coverage of the industry had made it more attractive to people from all walks of life. This in turn has led to a wider and more diverse talent pool, which wasn’t the case 20 years ago.
For Soto-Innes, inclusivity means being impartial when hiring staff. Her only criteria being talent; the gender or age of a potential candidate does not play a part in her decision-making process.
This year’s edition of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants saw a shift in discussion topics towards pressing social issues in the restaurant industry, hopefully setting the tone for future editions.
Stimulating discussions aside, the three-day-long event ended with the anticipated announcement of the world’s 50 best restaurants. French restaurant Mirazur clinched the top spot, followed by Noma from Copenhagen and Basque Country grill Asador Etxebarri in third place.
Notable mentions also include Singapore’s own Odette at #18, Gaggan at #4 as well as recipient of the Best Restaurant in Asia accolade. Spain’s Arzurmendi took home the Westholme Highest Climber Award.