It's the list that stops a nation. Or at least, it's the list that's propelled many a nation to pause and pick up their cutlery. Since its inception 14 years ago, the World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards has become a culinary tour de force.
And with the awards ceremony being held in Australia for the first time ever on April 5, it's going to be bigger than Ben Hur. Along with roving the country sampling some the best food Australia has to offer, the world's top chefs will share their knowledge at #50BestTalks, live Q&A shows in Sydney and Melbourne, hosted by ABC presenter Annabel Crabb.
Here's our guide to some of the talent heading this way.
Novocastrian Brett Graham in London. Photo: Helen Maybanks
Brett Graham, The Ledbury, London
Current restaurant ranking: 14
When Newcastle native Brett Graham first landed in London in 2000, he was on top of the world, having just won the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year Award. Pity no one told him that December in Britain meant winter – definitely not boardshorts and singlet weather, which is what he turned up in at Gatwick airport. You couldn't get more Australian, really. Unless you count the time, during the London riots, when a bunch of thugs tried to loot his Notting Hill restaurant. He had all of his customers ushered into the cellar and furnished them with whisky and champagne while he and the rest of the kitchen staff kept the marauders at bay. These days the Novocastrian boasts a cluster of awards for the Ledbury and is one of only two Australians representing with international restaurants in the top 50.
Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, Eleven Madison Park, New York
Current ranking: 3
Fun fact: Daniel Humm was a member of the Swiss national mountain biking team, racing across Europe, while he was training to be a chef. Another fun fact: if Will Guidara wasn't busy being one of the city's most impressive restaurateurs, he'd be a drummer. Together in 2011, Swiss-born Humm and native New Yorker Guidara, bought the restaurant from then-owner and manager Danny Meyer – the same year they published their first cookbook, Eleven Madison Park. It's the restaurant where the words "dress code" are probably more googled than "menu" (there actually isn't one; just remember to take off your hat in the restaurant), a place famous for its service (there are card tricks!) and its impeccable attention to detail. And it's a restaurant famous for holding one of the most epic after parties the World's 50 Best has ever seen when the awards were held in New York City last year.
French-born Dominique Crenn won World's Best Female Chef. Photo: Supplied
Dominique Crenn, Atelier Crenn, San Francisco
Current ranking: World's Best Female Chef 2016
This French-born San Francisco-based chef-poet brings her style of high-concept fine dining to the city where she was trained in the late '80s by legendary chef Jeremiah Tower. Her sense of whimsy, poetry and sensitivity with raw ingredients has seen her appear on Chef's Table, secure two Michelin stars (the first woman chef in America to have done so) and take home the World's Best Female Chef award, voted by her peers, at last year's World's 50 Best.
Gaggan Anand combines training at elBulli and his Indian heritage. Photo: Vasco Celio
Gaggan Anand, Gaggan, Bangkok
Current ranking: 23
"The only Gaggan with 3G" arrived in Thailand from India in 2007 and never left. Having worked with Ferran Adria's research team at elBulli labs in Spain, he applied the skills he developed under Adria to his fanciful and fun menu at Bangkok's Gaggan. The idea is bringing his Punjabi culinary heritage to life using modern techniques. That might mean eating a deconstructed chicken tikka masala or a samosa-inspired potato mousse dessert in an old colonial house in downtown Bangkok.
One of the world's great taste makers: Grant Achatz. Photo: Nathan Weber
Grant Achatz, Alinea, Chicago
Current ranking: 15
It's probably the only restaurant in the world where you can eat a helium balloon. And while many places have copied the idea of creating an edible artwork you can snack on right off the table, Achatz started it all. A chef who's worked under Thomas Keller and Ferran Adria, he credits hard work and study for much of his success in such a creative sphere. Since being diagnosed with stage IV tongue cancer in 2008 (he refused to have his tongue amputated, opting instead for a series of experimental treatments), he's come back swinging. Ever the consummate chef, he's one of the world's great taste makers.
Jordi Roca, El Celler De Can Roca, Girona, Spain
Current ranking: 2
New entry in the Who Knew dossier (sub file: Fancy Catalonian Restaurants). The Roca brothers have their own perfume, which they describe as "the smell of tenderness". The restaurant, run by the brothers Roca (Joan, who spent a season at elBulli with Ferran Adria, is on the savouries; Josep's on drinks and service; and Jordi's the man behind desserts) has been family-run since it opened back in the 1960s. The restaurant has seen an extraordinary ascension through the ranks of the World's 50 Best over the past few years. In 2013, the modernist, progressive restaurant in the tiny cobblestoned town of Girona beat the heavyweights at Noma for the number one spot on the list. They've kept a pretty tight hold on the pointy end of the list ever since.
The king of Modena: Massimo Bottura at Osteria Francescana. Photo: Paolo Terzi
Massimo Bottura, Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy
Current ranking: 1
The king of Modena, the man with the key to the city, a chef who tells the stories of his region by upending and reimagining tradition, caused a furore when he opened Osteria Francescana. The Modenese were up in arms about the food not being Italian, let alone regional. But the chef with a passion for art and experimentation in all forms put his head down and continued pursuing his ideas. And it paid off. Francescana is a restaurant that looks back to see forward, constantly challenging traditional ideas and what it means to taste. Simultaneously upending and also somehow respecting the idea of regional cuisine and what it means to tell a story through food, Bottura remains one of the world's most exciting and excitable chefs.
Connection with produce: Peter Gilmore from Quay. Photo: James Brickwood
Peter Gilmore, Quay, Sydney
Few chefs in Australia have as much passion for gardening and rare produce (native muntries, Japanese turnips, sweet barletta onions) as Peter Gilmore. He creates beauty from the moment a baby radish is pulled from the ground to when it appears on the plate. In fact, while his restaurant looks out over Sydney Harbour, what's on the plate is so singularly beautiful and delicious, it can be nigh on impossible to remember to look up. Gilmore's sensitivity when it comes to growing, producing and cooking – having that all-important connection with where our food comes from – makes him a force to be reckoned with.
#50BestTalks presented by San Pellegrino
Edible ideas with Massimo Bottura, Dominique Crenn, Peter Gilmore and Brett Graham, hosted by Annabel Crabb.
Saturday, April 1, Sydney Opera House. General entry $30,VIP tickets $119 (includes one-hour post-event VIP function in the Northern Foyers of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall; canape and drinks package provided by Matt Moran's Aria Catering including glass of champagne on arrival; meet and greet opportunity with the chefs).
Edible ideas with Daniel Humm, Will Guidara, Gaggan Anand, Jordi Roca and Grant Achatz, hosted by Annabel Crabb.
Monday, April 3, Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne Park. General entry $30, VIP tickets $99 (includes one-hour VIP function in the foyer of Margaret Court Arena; canape package includes a glass of champagne upon arrival; meet and greet opportunity with the chefs).
Tickets to Sydney and Melbourne #50BestTalks will be available from Wednesday, February 15 at goodfood.com.au/worlds50best