Monday night saw the elite of the culinary world attend the inaugural World Restaurant Awards in Paris. The ceremony was organized by IMG, an international events company, in cooperation with Joe Warwick, co-founder of the famous 50 Best Restaurants List. The awards recognize new talent and trends and are judged by a gender-balanced panel from around the globe. The unlikely winner hails from South Africa.
If you thought you needed to plan an extensive trip to eat at the world’s best restaurant, think again. While Copenhagen, Girona, or Modena was already quite an undertaking, newly crowned Wolfgat takes the crown. The restaurant is located in Paternoster, South Africa, a tiny fishing village, two hours north of Cape Town.
As the lone contender from Africa, Wolfgat beat out longtime favorites such as NOMA, Mugaritz, or Vespertine. Chef Kobus van der Merwe only began cooking professionally at the age of 30. Even though the cuisine differs from prestigious institutions such as NOMA, Van der Merwe seems to have adopted some of their philosophy. Wolfgat sources most of its ingredients from the wild Atlantic shore of the Western Cape. Dune spinach, laver (seaweed), and other sea vegetables are staples on the Wolfgat menu.
Former journalist Van der Merwe explained Monday night, that it was his intention to “interfere as little as possible with the products, and to keep them pure, raw and untreated.” The restaurant also won the award for the best “Off Map Destination”.
Wolfgat only seats 20 people and Van der Merwe says that this is by design. The philosophy of sourcing ingredients locally prevents a massive expansion of Wolfgat’s Stradveld (beach and field) cuisine. The restaurant, therefore, employs a small number of employees–a majority of which are women.
Awards for Absence of Tattoos and Tweezers
The first annual Restaurant Awards had an interesting split in categories entitled: Big Plates and Small Plates. While Big Plates included Best Restaurant, Arrival of the Year, and Best Atmosphere, the yearly changing Small Plates categories delivered out-of-the-box thinking and lightness to the affair.
Legendary French chef Alain Ducasse added another award to his growing pantheon. He took home the award for Tattoo-free Chef of the Year. Ironically, a tattoo aficionado, Canadian-born chef Matty Matheson presented Ducasse with the prize. The award for Best Instagram Account meanwhile, went to Ducasse’s compatriot and longtime peer Alain Passard.
To counteract the image that contemporary cuisine can only be arranged with surgical precision and instruments, the panel also awarded the best Tweezer-free Kitchen prize to Bo.Lan. The Bangkok based Bo.Lan first gained worldwide attention when it was featured in Netflix’s Chef’s Table last year.
The jury for the awards included NOMA’s Rene Redzepi, cookbook juggernaut Yotam Ottolenghi and Northern Irish chef Clare Smyth, the first woman to win three Michelin stars in Britain, among others.