The truth of Mr 50 Best

William Drew: «On the 5th April in Melbourne we'll celebrate gastronomy. What I dislike? Arrogant service». As for Paris...


Massimo Bottura and William Drew last 13th June in New York during a press conference

In two days' time, on Wednesday 5th April in Melbourne, during Wine and Food Festival, we’ll find out if Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana is still at No. 1 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. It was at the top last year in New York, who knows what’s next. Meanwhile, we interviewed the group editor at the World’s 50 Best, William Drew. He was born in Hampshire, England, in December 1971. Married, with three sons, he lives in Kent, an hour from London. A graduate in Politics, he has a post-graduate diploma in Journalism. He has over 20 years’ experience as journalist, writer and editor, primarily in magazines. He started working in the food and wine field 8-10 years ago, and has been working primarily in this field for the last 7 years.

You’re a journalist and food writer. Did you get here almost by chance or was this your childhood dream?
I always loved eating, but I never imagined I would be a food writer. I decided to become a journalist and covered many fields: business, retail, fashion, lifestyle magazines, sport, luxury, travel, before landing on food and drink. I have enjoyed every stage of the journey in different ways and, crucially, it has never been boring.

There’s an official side to William Drew, but what does William Drew like to eat when he’s not wearing the uniform of group editor for the 50 Best and becomes an ordinary person, if that it’s even possible?
For the majority of the time I am an ordinary person, trying to balance work with family, travel with domestic responsibilities. At home, my wife cooks extremely well (and much more frequently than me, though she would like me to contribute more!) and I am very happy eating freshly made but relatively simple family food. My job makes me more fussy when I go out to eat, but in the home we try to teach our children to be grateful for good honest food. I have three teenage sons, so we get through quite a volume of food in our house. 

A view of Melbourne

A view of Melbourne

And what do you dislike?
Arrogant service. Any food that is trying to be something it is not (I don’t mean in a conscious trompe l’oeil sense, but in terms of trying to disguise itself as something superior).

What do you appreciate the most, and the least, in the hospitality service offered by a restaurant?
Engaging service. Honest endeavour. Evident passion. These are much more important than the perfection of the dish or the precision of the delivery.

Is there a table that, regardless of the type of restaurant, you prefer to sit at? For instance, I prefer to be in the corner, with my back to the wall.
No, I don’t really have a favourite type of table. I enjoy dining at the counter on occasion though, so as to engage with the kitchen team.

Just like the Michelin Guide, the 50 Best have also shaped a special type of restaurant in which à la carte menus are usually banned, in favour of tasting menus. Did you expect this to happen?
A la carte menus are certainly not banned in 50 Best restaurants – indeed, you can dine a la carte at Osteria Francescana! The two can co-exist in harmony. Tasting menus do, of course, allow chefs to express themselves fully and so are prevalent, but we do not go in search of them. And for every trend, there will be a counter-trend.

Every year, those who get on the stage point out that restaurants, not chefs, are awarded, but then everyone speaks of the latter. Have you ever thought, perhaps in the early days, of organising a World’s 50 Best Chefs?
If we thought of it – we have dismissed it. How do you judge a chef in isolation? A chef’s food is diminished by poor service, enhanced by a great atmosphere, complemented by good wine and so on. Also, a head chef has to have a good brigade with him. I firmly believe that it is the overall restaurant experience that is more of a genuine barometer – and it is the restaurants that should be ranked first. We do, however, include some individual awards for chefs for a variety of reasons, but the central ranking will remain about restaurants.

Edition number 16 will be in Melbourne. What are the news you expect, compared to the past?
No comment until April 5th! Except to say, it is going to be a great celebration of gastronomy. Oh – and it’s a ‘black tie’ event so it will be glamourous, too.

Fourteen years in London, then New York and Australia. Will Paris be next the coming year?
No comment until May!

In 15 years restaurants in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Denmark and Italy got to the very first place. France is missing, above all. Many think it’s a scandal. What’s your opinion?
A scandal?! Or simply that a French restaurant has never received sufficient votes? The latter, clearly. It is the restaurant, not the country, which receives the accolade and the award. People do not vote for the restaurants based primarily on their nationality, so the argument doesn’t really make sense. France remains one of the world’s great gastronomic destinations, and French cuisine (and French chefs) continues to have a huge influence on the culinary world, but that does not mean it should have a No.1 restaurant as a result. There are many French restaurants in the list, and that reflects its culinary status better than which individual restaurant is at No.1.

Have you ever wondered why the French, who are masters in marketing and event promotion, as with the Olympic Games, the World Football Cup and of course gastronomic guides, missed the chance to launch something like the 50 Best? Was it because, deep down, they believe there cannot be other protagonists as good as them?
That is not for me to say.

Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, the two protagonists of Eleven Madison Park. The restaurant in New York could climb up the 50 Best list

Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, the two protagonists of Eleven Madison ParkThe restaurant in New York could climb up the 50 Best list

Does William Drew vote in the 50 Best?
No. None of the 50 Best team votes. None of the sponsors vote or have any sight of the list in advance of the awards night, nor do they have any influence over the ranking whatsoever.

How many people know the results before the ceremony?
Not many! We try to keep it as small as possible, for obvious reasons. Certainly none of the sponsors, nor any of the chefs, has any idea of the ranking, despite rumours and speculation.

Has anyone, once received the invitation, even answered they’d come only if you’d guarantee they had won?
No! But what do you mean by ‘won’? We consider being ranked in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants to be a victory in itself and we celebrate each and every one of those restaurants on the awards night.

The 50 Best are now a global certainty, have you ever calculated the impact of being one of the World’s 50 Best on the yearly turnover of a restaurant? And of being number one?
It’s impossible to calculate, given that it’s different for each restaurant. Undoubtedly, appearing on the list has a huge effect on demand for tables, especially from international visitors. And becoming No.1 provides a platform for a next-level global profile. But we cannot put a number on it.


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