Wall Street Lays a Poached Egg: Report from the World's 50 Best Restaurants Awards
The S. Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurant list, whose awards ceremony was held recently in New York, has supplanted Michelin as the gold standard of restaurant ratings. I was privileged to attend the event accompanied by a small coterie of journalists who had made the trek to the Big Apple to cheer on Mexico. This season the powers that be decided to move the shindig after fourteen years in London; it was held at Cipriani Wall Street, a cavernous, converted neoclassical bank built before the Wall street crash of ’29 (the title of my piece refers to Variety’s famous headline of that year).
La crema y la nata of culinary society were there – according to the announcer, 47 of the 50 on the list had promised to attend. Feeling ‘ritzy’, as my Jewish grandmother from Brooklyn would have said, I donned a new charcoal grey suit I’d bought at Lord & Taylor for the occasion, and arrived, Manhattan style, by subway. The weather was mercifully cool, kind to disobedient hair and potentially sweaty brows. Gowned and tuxedo-ed guests were filing in as I made my way through the United Nations-like crowd--English was a minority language here. The bars, heavily sponsored, were generously decked out with glasses full of Champagne, artisanal beer, good wine, and the requisite gin cocktails.
Trays of tempting hors d’oeuvres sailed by. I grabbed a couple of prepared oysters and a very good lamb chop as their purveyors headed to nearby VIPs – behind me, a Roca brother stood chatting with Daniel Humm of 11 Madison Park - they were the favorites of local paparazzi. Perched from the mezzanine level I viewed, bird’s eye style, the mix of press, foodies, chefs and fans scurrying about, air-kissing (I knew then I was not in Mexico), and posing for selfies.
But I was more interested in my paisanos. Two lauded chefs were there. Enrique Olvera, of Mexico City’s Pujol (his New York venue, Cosme, did not make the list) has become a national hero for his tireless promotion of Mexican cuisine. He’s still a nice guy despite his stellar status. Jorge Vallejo, Olvera’s protégé, whose Quintonil has now superceded the master numerically, still seemed to be reeling from his meteoric rise to star-chef status. He declared to me that he is just an ordinary guy. But he IS rated as number 12. At around 8 p.m. the generally sloshed guests were whisked into a cordoned off theatre area for the Oscar-style presentation of awards. Names were announced backwards from 50 to 1, the level of applause varying according to popularity and countrymen present. Only special winners, such as Dominique Crenn (World’s Best Female chef) or Alain Passard (Diners Club’s Lifetime Achievement Award) were allowed to accept their award personally and thank their mothers. The rest had to be content to stand up and bow. The Mexicans were loudly cheered from our section of the press box.
After the proceedings, many Ubers were summoned to transfer the raucous crowd to 11 Madison Park where the “after” party was held. This restaurant’s airy space had been emptied of furniture and converted into a disco that reminded me of the old Limelight. Here, drinks were as hard to procure as they are in Mecca, though I managed to snatch a couple of Negronis off a passing tray destined for someone more important--I’m still an aggressive New Yorker at heart. Number one winner Massimo Bottura danced wildly atop a ledge leading to the impossibly crowded bar. I had planted myself in a niche below him as navigation through the crowd of Little Black Dress clad Asian models, bearded chefs and an occasional person over 40 was becoming increasingly difficult. Then several corks were popped, spraying Massimo (and me in my brand new suit) with very good Champagne – a proper baptism if ever there was one. I left drenched, the house music still pulsing, at 2 a.m. I did not attend the ‘other’ after party at Jungsik, a high end Korean joint in Tribeca I had already "done" thanks to a Foodiehub sponsored gala event (Estela, Indian Accents, Contra and Momofuku Ko would follow.) I just went home and tried to rest, counting local, organically raised sheep, from 50 to 1.