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Canada's culinary rep loses oomph after being shut out of S. Pellegrino's top 100 Add to ...

Jonathan Gushue says he has his work cut out for him. On Monday night, his restaurant, Langdon Hall, in Cambridge, Ont., was bumped off the prestigious S. Pellegrino World's 100 Best Restaurants list. With the exclusion as well of last year's 60th-ranked Rouge restaurant in Calgary, the latest top 100 is notably devoid of any Canadian restaurants.

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The executive chef of the otherwise celebrated restaurant , however, is pragmatic about the loss.

"You know what? If you want to be on that list, you've got to work harder," Mr. Gushue says. "If people think that we need to have Canada on that destination list, they have to work for it."

The annual S. Pellegrino list, compiled by an academy of more than 830 international industry leaders, is one of the most influential ranking systems in the restaurant world. A restaurant that earns a spot on the list can expect to see its reservation wait times grow by weeks or months and draw visitors from across the globe who travel specifically to dine there.

After coming in at 77th last year, Mr. Gushue says Langdon Hall began filling up its reservation books almost immediately after the announcement.

"We've had several awards and designations, and there's no question: In my career, I've never seen one that makes a difference like the San Pellegrino," he says. "Our business changed within 24 hours."

This year, Noma, the famous Copenhagen restaurant headed by chef René Redzepi, claimed the No. 1 spot for the second year in a row. But there was wild fluctuation among the rest. Tokyo's Nihonryori RyuGin, for instance, jumped 28 spots from a year ago to No. 20, making it the highest climber of the year. Meanwhile, Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville in Crissier, Switzerland, plunged to No. 47 from the 14th place last year.

Such dramatic ups and downs can be controversial, and even the list's organizers admit the selection process is highly subjective.

Because it is "based on personal experiences it can never be definitive, but we believe it is an honourable survey of current tastes and a credible indicator of the best places to eat around the globe," the website says.

The academy, which includes chefs, restaurateurs and food critics, however, is sometimes criticized for overlooking certain contenders.

"If a great number of the voting board just happen to not go to the restaurant that year, then you're out of luck," Mr. Gushue says.

Although the process is imperfect, "it is significant, and we do care about it, not only because of the ranking, but because of the various opinions it represents," says Will Guidara, general manager of New York's Eleven Madison Park, which soared to No. 24 this year.

"It's a really good way to see whether the people whose opinions we respect are seeing the progress and the changes that we made," he says, explaining that his restaurant, which debuted at No. 50 last year, adopted an entirely new approach to its menu and renovated the dining room over the past year. Eleven Madison Park's leap into the top 25 makes it the second highest climber this year.

"There's nothing these days that gives you the amount of exposure that this does," Mr. Guidara says. At the same time, he adds: "By no means is this the be-all and end-all. It doesn't define our actions or our endeavours."

Until Langdon Hall and Rouge were recognized last year, a Canadian restaurant hadn't been on the list since 2003, when chef Michael Stadtlander's Eigensinn Farm in Singhampton, Ont., made the cut.

The list is unveiled at an awards ceremony attended by many of the world's most widely acclaimed culinary minds. In the crowd at Monday's ceremony at The Guildhall in London were such heavyweights as David Chang, Eric Ripert, Fergus Henderson, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz.

The jury's votes are based on their best dining experiences over the past 18 months. Unlike the similarly prestigious Michelin guide, there are no checklists or rules about a restaurant's qualifications; any establishment can be eligible, no matter how unknown or remote, and the selections are based on the academy members' opinions alone.

But with a "best restaurant" ranking also comes the pressure of living up to diners' sometimes unrealistic expectations. Mr. Gushue says Mr. Redzepi once told him he, too, found people were much more critical of his restaurant after the increased international exposure.

"He told me, 'We have the exact same problem.' You're sort of setting yourself up," Mr. Gushue says, adding that Mr. Redzepi shared horror stories of diners walking out on their meals after Noma received top honours last year. "The problem is, there's people going to this restaurant just because it's the best restaurant in the world. They have no idea about the cuisine. They have no idea about René Redzepi and they have no idea about the whole concept of Noma. It's a real shame."

Instead of calling it the "world's best restaurants," Mr. Gushue suggests it would be more accurate to think of the S. Pellegrino list as a ranking of the world's "most influential" restaurants, or the restaurants that have received the most attention over a given year.

He adds that he'd rather diners choose to visit his restaurant because they like his style of cuisine, not because of its perceived reputation.

"I'm not saying I wouldn't want to be on the list. Of course, I want to be on the list," Mr. Gushue says. "But the fact that we're not? I won't lose any sleep."

Meanwhile, he says, he'll aim to reclaim a spot on the list next year. "Like I said, I've got to work harder."

The S. Pellegrino Top 10 Restaurants (2011)

1. Noma, Denmark

2. El Celler De Can Roca, Spain

3. Mugaritz, Spain

4. Osteria Francescana, Italy

5. The Fat Duck, England

6. Alinea, United States

7. D.O.M., Brazil

8. Arzak, Spain

9. Le Châteaubriand, France

10. Per Se, United States

 

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