Sustainability and Impactful Meals: A Dialogue with William Drew

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As the hands of time relentlessly forge onwards, the eyes of the culinary universe narrow their gaze towards one singular point on the horizon. Anticipation has reached a fever pitch that stirs up butterflies in one’s stomach. The crowning moment of the gastronomic world’s annual calendar is upon us. In the golden glow of tomorrow’s dawn, the palatable mystery of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2023 will unfold in the vibrant heart of Valencia.

Nestled within the sun-drenched landscapes of Spain, Valencia is more than just a city. It is an intricate mosaic of old-world charm and avant-garde dynamism. Proclaimed the World Design Capital a year ago, Valencia gracefully unites the past and the future in an exquisite dance of architectural splendour. Gothic facades steeped in antiquity share the city’s skyline with the revolutionary strokes of Santiago Calatrava’s futuristic masterpieces. The intermingling of time-honoured tradition and innovative flair is a testament to the city’s unyielding spirit.

This city, Spain’s third largest and bathed in perpetual sunshine, prides itself as the cradle of paella. Its culinary repertoire is not limited to this renowned delicacy alone. Still, it extends to an array of signature dishes and authentic tapas, each mirroring the city’s vibrant culture and rich heritage.

In anticipation of the grandeur that awaits us tomorrow, the city is brimming with events, each creating a symphony culminating in a gala ceremony at the awe-inspiring City of Arts and Sciences architectural complex. Amidst this flurry of exhilarating activity, we have had the pleasure of a tête-à-tête with William Drew, the Director of Content for the 50 Best.

Our conversation traversed across a spectrum of compelling subjects, from the influential magnitude of the 50 Best Awards and its strides in advocating for gender parity the voting system’s inner workings, and many other intriguing topics. With the event imminent, Valencia awaits with bated breath, ready to be on the stage for an unrivalled celebration of gastronomic excellence.

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The World's 50 Best Restaurants

Despite some of the criticism of the 50 Best list, the rating has remained relevant since its inception in 2002. What would you say are the main strategic reasons for that?

50 Best has remained relevant because it reflects the ever evolving global dining scene. It has built credibility and influence and has used its platform to promote not only great restaurants, but positive initiatives in the food and drink world.

The 50 Best list has an unmistakable impact on the prominence of the restaurants on it, and even on entire regions. How would you evaluate this impact?

50 Best helps shine a light on different restaurants, cuisines, countries and regions through food. Food is the ultimate window into culture, and it (literally) brings people together, so 50 Best can justifiably claim to have helped promote not only greater culinary diversity but cultural understanding and cooperation.

It has been a few years since the World’s 50 Best announced its commitment to improving gender equality in an industry with a reputation for sexism. On reflection, would you say that this commitment has been fulfilled ?

It’s an ongoing process and the industry still have plenty of progress to make yet before it can claim gender equality. We believe the initiatives we have introduced are helping drive positive change and will continue to push things in the right direction, but we certainly do not believe we have completed that mission.

As we know, the voting system relies on the personal opinion of the voters rather than strict criteria. How would you evaluate the responsibility of your voters? Is it the case that those people who vote with the wrong intentions and don’t stick to the rules are sought out and their votes disqualified? If so, how common a situation is it where people are removed from the panel?

Our voting system has numerous elements in place to ensure people stick to the rules, as well as the voting process being monitored by Deloitte, and the results also adjudicated by Deloitte. But, of course, if we find someone has broken the rules or clearly violated the spirit of the system, then we will disqualify their votes and/or remove them as voters entirely. We would not reveal details of who is involved, or how many times such measures are taken.

There is a special sustainability award. How are the restaurants chosen for this award and which organisations do you collaborate with to ensure that this process is credible?

All restaurants from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and 51-100 list are invited to receive a sustainability audit from our partners at the Sustainable Restaurant Association. This audit assesses all aspects of sustainability including environmental impact and practices, sourcing, waste management, people management and staff welfare, social initiatives and community engagement (among other elements). The winner is the restaurant that best demonstrates that it is doing good as well as serving incredible food.

Diners all over the world use the list as a guide to where to dine, and where to travel. Is there anything you’d like to add that would make it even more valuable in this respect?

We will launch the first list of The World’s 50 Best Hotels in September 2023. Along with our guides to the best restaurants and bars, and the location-led 50 Best Discovery, we are providing a credible and curated array of places in which to eat, drink and stay.

What does it take to be a successful restaurant in 2023?

There is no formula, but looking after your team, your guests and society in equal measure will certainly help.

Do the role of the chef and the concept of storytelling through the food and environment play an important part in being featured on the list?

The chef is leading the kitchen, and food is always going to be an important element in any restaurant. But the votes are for restaurants, not chefs. Some restaurants will prioritise storytelling, others will not – but any style of restaurant can feature on the list. It’s what the voters decide are their best dining experiences, of any kind, that counts.

What are the changes you’ve made to the awards this year?

No major changes to the awards themselves, though the presentation will be a little different… We are excited to add the 50 Best Signature Sessions series of collaborative dinners to the live event programme in Valencia, along with an educational event for students, and to continue with our Champions of Change initiative too.

One of the trends that has emerged in recent years is the celebration of indigenous ingredients. What other trends have you noticed recently that are worthy of mention

A focus on human sustainability, as well as environmental; a further shift away from longer menus (not exclusively) to shorter and more impactful meals; simplicity and, of course, the continued elevation of the humble vegetable.

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