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'It's happening. And that's what we want culinary awards to be about"

'It's happening. And that's what we want culinary awards to be about"

A chat with Joe Warwick, co-creator of The World Restaurant Awards, a few hours before the ceremony. Don't miss our live coverage from Palais Brognart in Paris!

By FDL on

Today is the day: the first edition of The World Restaurant Awards is here! Tonight at Palais Brogniart, in the very center of Paris, the eighteen categories already shortlisted will have their reigning champions crowned.

Fine Dining Lovers is the media partner of the new concept Oscars style ceremony: don't miss our live coverage from Paris with exclusive interviews behind the scenes, red carpet footage and much more by following us on Instagram. The winners will be promptly announced on our website as well so... just stay tuned. 

According to its creators, Joe Warwick and Andrea Petrini, the Awards aim "to celebrate restaurants as culture, considered in the same way as film, art and music".

We got in touch with the dynamic Warwick in his new role as Creative Director on the eve of the inaugural edition of The World Restaurant Awards. Journalist, Celebrity Master Chef Judge, author, broadcaster and all-round bon vivant, Joe Warwick lives in London where his work appears in print, on the radio and TV. Working front-of-house in restaurants before taking up food journalism, Warwick has never strayed far from the industry. From working as a restaurant critic and magazine editor and reporting for the BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme to writing bestselling international restaurant guide “Where Chefs Eat” and co-founding The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards, he has a voracious appetite for culinary excellence that knows no bounds.

How would you describe yourself and your role in The World Restaurant Awards?

I’m an editor, a journalist and a generator of content, all of it connected to restaurants. I’m the Creative Director of the awards but it’s taken a huge team to bring them life and they have been created together with IMG and Andrea Petrini, who is the Chair of the Judging Panel. It’s very much a group effort.

Why did you decide to create it and what makes it different from other worldwide Awards?
Because no one is doing anything else exactly like it. It felt like the right time for a new kind of international restaurant awards. Everything that’s appeared in the wake of the 50 Best is a variation on the same format – La Liste, OAD, the Elite Traveller 100. There’s nothing wrong with that but we wanted to try and create something different, something that considered restaurants as culture and that looked at lots of different kinds of restaurant experiences. We’ve had the luxury of being able to create a restaurant awards from the ground up. We’ve had time to think about it (over a decade in my case). We’re not tied to the same formula each year in that we can change our categories according to what we think is interesting and tell another story. We’ll always have a ‘Restaurant of the Year’ and probably a new arrival but all the other categories could change. Also, no one else is combining the crowdsourcing of opinion from an expert panel with an inspection process. We have sent teams of inspectors around the world to judge the ‘Big Plate’ shortlists.

How were the jurors chosen and how many are there in total? In future editions will they remain the same or will they change?
We want to keep our judging panel comparatively small and completely transparent in terms of publishing all the names. But we only did this after the nominations were complete. There are currently 100 (50 men and 50 women) plus Andrea and myself. We’re proud we were the first to insist on gender parity in an international restaurant award. Beyond that, we were looking for people that had a sense of context about the international restaurant industry, that were well-traveled and ate around. Rootless cosmopolitans with well-worn passports. We would like to grow the panel each year, by how much we haven’t decided yet. We will ask everyone if they will like to be involved again and will announce the final 2020 panel after next year’s nominations are complete.

How were the longlists formed initially and then how were they reduced to the shortlists?
Purely via the nominations made by the judging panel via our online portal. The shortlists were produced by a combination of mathematics and discussions. Could you explain if there is a "code of practice" or some rules that the jurors are obliged to respect? Yes, there is a code of practice. We have not published it in full yet (we may do so in the future) but it covers a lot of things from our very wide definition of a restaurant (‘an establishment with a dedicated seating area that provides table service’) to not being able to nominate ‘any business that you, or any member of your family, have a financial interest in – or any business that you currently provide services for, or have provided services for in the past.’

The Awards: what distinguishes the "Big plates" and "Small plates" Awards and why did you choose to separate them out?
As I mentioned before we designed this as a restaurant awards and the original idea came from what we wanted the ceremony to be like. The "Small Plates" are genuinely speaking more playful (they are not inspected and have shorter longlists, 3 as opposed to 5) and we imagined them as punctuating the run of more serious "Big Plates".

"Small plates" awards are intended as "an attempt to subvert current gastronomic fashion” (from WRA site). One can agree with the intention, but on what basis can the jurors propose/select "Tattoo-Free Chefs" or "Red-Wine Serving Restaurants"?
I think there’s a bit of misunderstanding about those two categories. They might sound like a joke but at the same time, we’re trying to make serious points. The ‘Tattoo-Free Chef’ award is not just about body art it’s also about considering chefs that are more classic in their approach less prone to follow fashion. With the ‘Red-wine serving award’, there’s a certain breed of the fashionable new restaurant in northern Europe and North American where red wine had gone out of fashion. Andrea Petrini and I sat together at a dinner not so long ago where we were served glass after glass of white wine in a pairing until it got to a point where we were almost crying out for a glass of red. That category is a response to that experience.

What would you say to those that argue there are conflicts of interest in the shortlists names that refer or are linked to the jurors – such as Mugaritz and Noma for "Original thinking", Blue Hill at Stone Barn for "Ethical Thinking", Mil for "Off the Map Destinations" and others?
We have thought about this. If we go back to our "code of practice" we have this covered: "At the point, any member of the judging panel is nominated in a category, they ceased to be involved in the judging of that category". That doesn’t stop them being involved in judging of other categories in which they have not been nominated.

What would you consider the biggest success of this new event?
That it’s happening. Justin Clarke, now the Managing Director of IMG Culinary, and I started talking about this over a decade ago. There were times where I thought the idea was dead and buried but Justin never gave up trying to make it happen. Also the idea of working together with the whole judging panel to make the awards better and to try and make it properly collaborative. And finally our first "Restaurant of the year" which embodies a lot of the things that we want the awards to be about.

What’s next for The World Restaurants Award?
We’re staying in Paris next year and have some plans to make the event bigger and better. Watch this space. Beyond that, we want to try and do another workshop with our judging panel and want to keep working on refining the awards. Like opening a restaurant it’s going to take a few years before we achieve everything we set out to do. We’ve only just opened for business, this is just the beginning.

Stay tuned on Fine Dining Lovers e join us for our live coverage from Paris following the hashtags #worldrestaurantawards and #FDLinsider

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