Opinion50 Best Latin America: triumphs, pandemic and future in...

50 Best Latin America: triumphs, pandemic and future in the most famous gastronomic list in the world

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You do not need to be a fan of football or food (although in this country we are both to the core) to get excited when Peru achieves a triumph, no matter how small or big. The gastronomy -perhaps the purest expression that exists of who we are as a nation- has been giving us so many recognitions in recent decades that we have almost lost count. We have become used to winning, it is true, but we cannot forget that behind these achievements there is a chain that includes almost a million Peruvians who strive every day to keep this industry afloat. After almost two years of pandemic, there is the real prize.

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A few nights ago, Lima shone again. The meeting organized around the awarding of the 50 Best Latin America, a list that since 2013 recognizes the best restaurants in our region, once again brought together the great talents of the culinary industry in the same space in which it may well be the first event official of Peruvian gastronomy in the last 18 months. From Gastón Acurio, Rafael Osterling and José del Castillo, to Jaime Pesaque, Juan Martínez, Pía León and James Berckemeyer: nobody was missing. Masks, open spaces and a new auditorium of the PUCP Convention Center that was kept with minimum capacity were the chosen setting for the virtual delivery of these awards. Upon entry, it was mandatory to present a Covid proof or the complete vaccination card.

There was no master of ceremonies and no one went up to collect the award: everything was done through a screen, projected simultaneously in Oaxaca, Bogotá, Quito, Sao Paulo, Lima, Mendoza and Santiago de Chile. In the video, not 50, but 100 restaurants from the 2021 list were announced live; of them, 17 serve Peruvian cuisine. The feeling was closer to being in a movie theater than at an awards show, but the excitement and applause confirmed that it was indeed a real event. That was needed.

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Although the results of this list are obtained through the votes of a panel composed of around 250 specialists (chefs, journalists, people linked to the gastronomic sector) who are divided, in turn, into four sub-regions, in the 2021 edition things changed. Few traveled, many restaurants were closed, and the world of gastronomy as it was known changed in an unexpected way. How do you create a culinary ranking when no one can go out to eat?

Each year, the voters on the list must evaluate – and propose – the best restaurants in the region that they have visited in the last 18 months. In addition, different talents are often nominated for the special categories of Best Female Chef or the Lifetime Achievement Award. The pandemic, however, has led to a reconfiguration of this dynamic. Under the concept “Past and Future”, the selection of the positions this 2021 was made based on the scores of the eight previous editions, added and weighted. Hence, some places on the list are so different from the most recent rankings.

This year, in addition, the “best reinvention” (Eduardo García, from the Máximo restaurant in Mexico City), sustainability (Corrutela restaurant, Sao Paulo) was recognized and the Icon award was awarded to the duo composed by the historian Adriana Salay and chef Rodrigo Oliveira from Mocotó (Sao Paulo), who created the NGO Quebrada Alimentada in 2020. There was much to highlight in the field and things could not continue to be on hiatus.

“I see it as a historical recognition, which highlights restaurants that were relevant in a context and at a time, the constancy of others, and a moment that presents an interesting future,” says the gastronomic journalist Paola Miglio, president of the Academy (Academy Chair) of the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants on this award. Miglio is in charge of the voting region of South America, North zone, which includes Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela, among other countries. “I hope that a list will come that follows the correlation of that of 2020, where progress continues. This has been a weighted, 8-year average; It is not a ranking of what is currently happening, nor is it derived from a vote. As was well said in the presentation: the list is the past, what was, what was worked; and the special prizes are the future, what is to come or may come ”, indicates Paola.

Mitsuharu Tsumura poses at Maido, a Miraflores restaurant that ranks 2 on the Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants 2021 list. Photo: Santiago Barco.

Peru tends to have a radically important presence and that has not changed. The first two positions on the list are occupied by Central (number one in the period 2013-2021) and Maido (2). Follow Astrid & Gaston (4); The sea from Lima (13); Bone (17); Rafael (20); Isolina (24); Fiesta (39); The Picanteria (46); Dress (52); Mayta (56); Thousand (61); Cosme (69); The market (71); Merit (78); and Waterfront 700 (96). In addition, we find two Peruvian restaurants located in Buenos Aires: Osaka (80) and again The sea (87) with its Argentine headquarters.

“You have to see these results as one more tool that helps us to improve, to build, and to see what is coming. There are important things that are there, and talented people who are doing new things. This has been seen in the nominations for the special awards, which is very encouraging in these difficult years ”, continues Paola Miglio. Among the talents to celebrate, the nomination of the Peruvian cook also stands out. Francesca Ferreyros (Baan) in the category “Latin America’s Rising Star Female Chef Award” (or award to the future female star). The example of Pía León undoubtedly continues to pave the way for many women in our industry.

Not everything, however, has been a celebration as a result of the 2021 edition of the 50 Best Latin America.

In total, 18 Peruvian food restaurants are part of the 2021 list: 16 of them are in Peru and two abroad.  Photo: Hugo Pérez.

The criticisms around the 50 Best brand ranking are nothing new. The Peruvian cook Hector Solis He published on his networks the same night of the event that he had asked to stop being part of the list. Solís has not one, but two of its restaurants in the 2021 edition: Fiesta and La Picanteria. “I observe with amazement that despite the innumerable requests to the guide The World’s 50 Best not to include us in any contest, we continue to appear in it,” Solís wrote on his Instagram account. “Gentlemen, I will appreciate not including us in the following editions, the only Thursdays for us are our friends, satisfied customers,” he said in a post on Monday, November 22.

For his part, the Argentine chef Francis Mallmann (also with two restaurants in this edition) shared in an extensive statement what were the reasons why it rejected its presence in said ranking. “I have been cooking for 40 years. As you know, the kitchen is a romance of ingredients, space, service, time and silence. I see conflicting feelings in so many of my colleagues who are so concerned about the awards that they spend the year lobbying voters, jumping from conference to conference, and, in my opinion, wasting valuable time and distancing themselves from the real values ​​that they hold. a restaurant, “Mallmann wrote in a post that already has more than thirty thousand likes. “The awards created a fictitious and ultra-competitive environment for our gastronomic culture,” says Mallmann in a sincere and very personal text.

What happens to the culinary sector in the post-pandemic world is something that is still – in the most literal sense of the word – cooking.

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