Occupy Fine Dining! How the 99% is taking on gastronomy


El Celler de Can Roca, in Girona, Spain, which was chosen as No 1 on the 50 Best Restaurants list. Photograph: Alamy

The collective Occupy 50 Best has launched a campaign challenging the methods and transparency of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list

Zoe Reyners is, appropriately, in a taxi on her way to lunch when we talk. Reyners and her two colleagues in Paris-based “collective” Occupy 50 Best have put le chat among the grilled pigeons with an attack on this week’s annual list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The collective’s website, launched less than a month ago, has already attracted 403 signatories, including many leading chefs, to an online petition calling on the food industry to “stop financing and supporting 50 Best if it doesn’t change its methods”.

The name “Occupy 50 Best” would suggest the collective’s driving force is economic, but their real concern is transparency. “This is a ranking based on nothing,” says Reyners, who works in PR but emphasises she has no food clients. “We want proper methods of selection.” The 50 best restaurants are chosen by a panel of 1,000 chefs, food writers and gastronomes, but Reyners says the voting process is riven with “conflicts of interest” and “cronyism” – “fishy” is the word she inevitably uses to sum it up.

She also criticises the western European bias, and what she sees as a celebration of (almost invariably) male celebrity chefs. “I dislike cool cuisine and the ‘storyfication’ of chefs,” she says. “There is a need for more authenticity in cooking. One of my colleagues believes in eating naturally, and is annoyed at the favouritism shown to avant-garde and molecular food.”

Why adopt the Occupy name? “It is similar to other Occupy movements in that it’s a grassroots movement without specific leaders,” she explains. Is occupation an option? She laughs. “It’s a good question. I don’t know where the movement will go. It doesn’t depend on me or on the people who started it. Hopefully other people will join, and if there are some actions taken, cool.”

The World’s 50 Best Restaurants was started in 2002 by UK-based magazine Restaurant, but has now been hived off as a separate brand and from next year will decamp to New York. Group editor William Drew dismisses the criticism. “It’s a very small, if vocal, minority,” he says. “Our voting process is clear – 1,000 independent experts across the globe create the list and none of our sponsors or any of the organisers can influence it. The basis on which [Occupy’s] arguments are built is flawed. We are a positive force and celebrate gastronomy around the world.”

Reyners says Occupy has received lawyers’ letters from 50 Best Restaurants, which she alleges wants to close their website down. Drew denies this, and says the letters relate only to a logo 50 Best believes is too similar to its own. Let’s hope this argument is not about to move from the dining room to the courts.

From The Guardian

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