Cuisine editor: Should a NZ eatery be among the World's 50 Best Restaurants?
OPINION: Melbourne was home to the World's 50 Best Restaurant awards this year. The only other cities to have hosted this prestigious event are London (for the first 14 years) and New York (last year). Landing an event of this magnitude was game-changing for Australia. And so back in April, I set off to experience a series of events designed by Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, Tourism Australia and Visit Victoria to spread the message that Australia is a must-visit culinary destination.
Melbourne was teeming with international media, food writers, bloggers, vloggers and the food-obsessed. We were treated to long lunches, street parties, degustations, laneway crawls, high teas, master classes and endless gala dinners. Australia's identity was firmly on the menu in cleverly designed events, each with a well-thought-out story to tell.
In the lead-up to the World's 50 Best awards night, the world's rock-star chefs descended on Melbourne and it was like watching conveyor belt sushi. Dufresne, Roca, Humm, Thompson, Achatz, Acurio, Cracco, Hasegawa, Blumenthal, Vallejo, Bottura… everywhere I turned there were celeb-chef-spotting opportunities. Along with over 250,000 food and wine lovers, I was in gastronomic heaven. It was glorious.
As the World's 50 Best drew closer, I was hopeful a New Zealand restaurant might make it onto the top 100 list. Perhaps because of the proximity of the World's 50 Best, I was guilty of a heightened sense of expectancy? Having presented the Cuisine Good Food Awards with Vittoria Coffee and worked with our extensive team of judges across the country to decide who would wear our hats for 2016, I hit Melbourne convinced that New Zealand food was ready to be recognised. But it wasn't.
Since 2013, Tourism Australia has been driving a massive campaign to give Australia's food and drink offering a global spotlight. They realised that Australia had long been recognised as a travel destination for its myriad natural wonders and cosmopolitan cities, but the country's emerging food and drink culture was something that travellers experienced by default (sound familiar?).
They decided to cash in on the fact that the exploration of food as the purpose of tourism is a vital component of the tourism experience. They paid a sponsorship level of around NZ$850,000 to be the official sponsor of World's 50 Best.
The Cuisine Good Food Awards play an important role in identifying and promoting the very best dining experiences in New Zealand. The Cuisine Good Food Guide provides a national snapshot of the steady growth of our restaurant industry and its increasing commitment to being the best. But how do we catch the attention of the World's 50 Best judges?
Late last year, the 50 Best Tastemakers – a band of international gastronomes and social media pros – shared their favourite dish of 2016. Not surprisingly, a New Zealand restaurant was nowhere in sight. There was, however, a New Zealander within that group of official tastemakers. Zoe Bowker is a luxury travel blogger from NZ, now living in Dubai, and says she searches the globe for the tastiest destinations. Her best dish for 2016 was eaten at Azurmendi in Biscay, Spain. It showcased mushrooms, fried quail's eggs and garlic flowers. At the time Azurmendi was number 16 on that coveted list.
Bowker was one of only a few international media that made it across to experience some NZ flavours before heading home from World's 50 Best. After scouring online menus, local lists and asking local experts, she chose Clooney and The Grove to visit. On her website tablenumber7.com, Bowker scored Clooney 9.7 and The Grove 9.5 out of 10. She says our chefs are designing menus that are on par with some of the best restaurants globally.
On identifying what is unique about New Zealand food, Bowker said, "I think culinary identity is something we've struggled with in the past, but I'm very happy to see there is more exploration of native ingredients taking place. For a region to truly understand its culinary signature, it starts with native produce. Currently, I feel our food does a great job of reflecting our multicultural community, bringing together a wide range of Pacific, European, Indian and Asian flavours."
So how do you get to be one of the best? Is New Zealand ready? I like to think we are on our way. We have pockets of brilliance. With a continued and unified commitment from the industry and support from our government, we can do this.