Jus de cervelle

Ta mère la liste amère

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    Alexandre Cammas
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© Kim Roselier

After making France proud by gently presiding over the longest and greenest communal table in history, Laurent Fabius is back at the table these days, endorsing from his lofty position as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development a bogus project that exhausts French soft power and does a disservice to our best chefs: La Liste, a sort of farcical ranking of the world’s 1,000 best restaurants.

But before we go any further, a little recap of the facts and backstory is required. Because sure, Fabulous Fab certainly had good intentions…

So, in the early 2000s, Restaurant Magazine, an English culinary magazine seeking out a little notoriety, had an idea: launch the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, a way to profile the Top 50 chefs worldwide…. The idea, albeit intriguing from a PR perspective, was unfortunately impossible to seriously implement. And for good reason: the world is much too large; taste will never be anything but precisely that, a matter of taste; and, unless there’s proof to the contrary, a “gustatometer” capable of measuring the culinary performances of all the chefs in the world doesn’t and won’t exist for a very long time…. But never mind all that. Restaurant Magazine decided to ignore the obvious, counting on the stunning stupidity (or laziness) of a few plate-passers and a gullible readership, and managed to generate a triumphant amount of buzz around the “world’s best chef.” Said chef would be chosen by a group of vanishing colleagues, whom we quickly discovered were incapable of providing proof (in the form of bills, invoices, account statements, plane tickets, etc.) of their supposed visits to the various restaurants in question…

That being the case, whatever was meant to happen would happen…. Since gastronomy isn’t considered a serious subject matter, not many qualified journalists tackled the issue, and too few journalists at all questioned the inept ranking system. Therefore, ever since 2002, the “world’s best chefs” have been treated to their fifteen minutes of fame on prime time news programs worldwide. Including those in France, since Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Ducasse were highly ranked in the early years, making it impossible not to condone it…. Which lead to the increasingly painful revelation, year after year, of the absurdity of it all, as the French gastrocracy (Ducasse, Robuchon, Savoy, Alléno…) found itself downgraded. And then outclassed.

At first, French gastronomic journalists and chefs barked in unison like old hurt dogs against the ignoble “50 Best List”; owners of the Michelin-starred groups threatened to boycott sponsors of the “50 Best List”; and even politicians (Sarko leading the pack) contributed their arrogant and contemptuous little sound bites, praising French cuisine as the best in the world…. In vain. Other stars besides our dear restaurants étoilés were glowing bright in the gastronomic galaxy, and our proud national business plan experienced a few harsh takedowns, as francophobes or belligerent foreign observers took a twisted pleasure in critiquing the testament of our sacrosanct cooking.

With La Liste, somehow miraculously supported by Laurent Fabius, a group of gastronomes in long underwear decided to create another idiotic ranking system, but a “Made in France” version this time around…. The first rendition of which was revealed the evening of December 17th, 2015, before an audience of happy freeloaders, the kind chefs adore, who eat at their restaurants without ever asking for the bill…. Surprise, surprise and cocorico chers compatriotes, France is back on top of the world rankings! How did they manage to create a ranking of the world’s best chefs that was so different from the previous list? With new methods but just as much malarkey as the first time around. Namely, by aggregating the rankings of gastronomic guides or participating websites, excluding at the same time any publication sufficiently honest enough not to rank restaurants*, and by including guides that haven’t provided proof of visiting and paying the restaurants they review in ages.

Of course, we would have liked to know a little more about the weight given to the various guides used in the ranking system with respect to their level of integrity; as for the participating websites, we would have liked to know if the restaurants with the most comments were more highly ranked; and lastly, we would like to peer into the future, to see how this group of small-time crooks might still criticize the subjugation of the “50 Best List” to its sponsors, even though it is sponsored by brands of the same caliber.

But we’re not expecting that much. It’s all too clear that this bad joke intends only to defend a failing gastronomic business model: the unremarkable Michelin-starred restaurant. Too often driven, alas, by great chefs who will never be great individuals…. Accepting honors, stars and credit where no credit is due, with the self-satisfied smiles of the most obnoxious valedictorians…. No personality, nothing original to contribute, but oh so proud to show off how perfectly they can recite the lessons learned from their masters. The same ones who sent them to the top of the list, or to hospice…. Even though, as we well know, the best restaurants, be they grand or small, don’t need a phony list to make French talent shine.

With La Liste, it’s France’s best chefs who lose.

And international critics who win new ways to make fun of our gourmet sensibilities.

Alexandre Cammas

*Last minute update: while the above text was completed the same morning as the publication of La Liste, around 10pm, shorty after Fabius’ speech, I received a photo of an official document from “La Liste” associating “Le Fooding” with this sham…. Inelegant? Parasitic? All that and more. However, since Le Fooding doesn’t rank or grade the restaurants featured in our Guide, I don’t exactly see how this could be possible. Suddenly aware of the tackiness of its ranking system, could the darling organization be trying to latch onto something cool? We’re going to take a closer look. But first, a quick phone call to our lawyer is in order. We’ll keep you posted.

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