Asia's 50 best restaurants announced

Amid tears of triumph and recognition of both new and established talent, Maida Pineda reports that diversity is the winner at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2015


The announcement on 9 March of Asia’s 50 Best 2015 awards had several surprises. Gaggan in Bangkok claimed the number one spot, moving up two spots from last year’s number three spot. Gaggan claimed the title of San Pellegrino Best Restaurant in Asia, as well as the San Pellegrino Best in Thailand title (read our Q1 interview with Gaggan Anand here). Both titles were held last year by Nahm, which dropped several notches to number seven.

While waiting for the second and first spots to be announced, the crowd wondered if Narisawa would claim back the number one spot it secured in 2013. Ultimately though, the famed restaurant in Tokyo remained in the number two spot and still retained San Pellegrino Best Restaurant in Japan title.

The other surprises of the evening were the eight new entries, including first time roll calls from the Philippines (Antonio’s, No. 48), and Cambodia (Cuisine Wat Damnak, No.5).

Upon learning his restaurant took the top spot, Gaggan Anand burst into tears. A visibly emotional Anand said: “I don’t know if I could put together the words to express how I feel. It’s overwhelming.” The Kolkata-born chef of the modern progressive Indian restaurant in Bangkok said, “It’s the proudest moment in my life, where I stand before Tetsuya, who has been a chef for 28 years. I was reading his cookbooks when I was 18 years old. I’ve travelled and thankfully I have eaten at most of the restaurants in the list. Each restaurant was one after the other, a tsunami of better restaurants.”

The 37-year old chef could barely believe he was standing alongside his culinary idols: “There is Narisawa, whom I saw in Madrid Fusion in 2010. Then, I was thinking, ‘Wow, look at this chef.’ Then there’s David Thompson who’s my local guide on how to behave as a mature chef.”

After the announcement, Anand immediately phoned his mother in India to share the good news. Not one to forget his roots, Anand  revealed to the press, “I think I should buy my mum a house. My mum is very humble. I come from humble beginnings. I grew up in a one-room apartment. That’s where I’m from and that’s my food. That’s what Asia is all about.”

While many wonder if the restaurant’s win is a victory for Thailand or India, Gaggan explained his views. “I can’t say I represent India or I represent Thailand. What I can represent is a chef that wants to cook his own way,” he said. The chef admitted that what he has done has been risky. “Indian food had never been changed before this.”

William Drew, group editor of 50 Best Restaurants added: “From the Asia’s 50 Best point of view, we are extremely proud to have such a diversity of cooking stars and cuisines within the list, from Gaggan’s molecular cuisine to David Thompson’s authentic traditional Thai cuisine. It is extremely important that we reflect the depth and diversity of cuisines across Asia, whatever style they are. We don’t favour one or the other, we just ask them to vote and someone comes out on top.”

The voting process changed for this year’s list. In the past two years, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list was tallied from global votes from the 900-plus members of The Diner’s Club ® World 50 Best Restaurants Academy. This year, the results came from 300 voters residing throughout Asia. Drew explains the implications of this change, “A regional vote will better showcase the diverse restaurant scene across Asia, reflecting the tastes and opinions of experts based on the continent itself.”

The change in voting has yielded inclusions of the new entries and representation from more countries. Tony Boy Escalante, chef-owner of twelve-year old restaurant Antonio’s from the Philippines expressed: “I’m elated. I’m very inspired. I think, we’re on the way to have more Filipino chefs on the list.” The diversity Drew speaks of is evident in the spread and representation among the countries in the list: China leading with 16 restaurants, Singapore with 10, Japan 8, Thailand 5, Korea 3, India 3, Sri Lanka 2, and one each from Taiwan, Cambodia and the Philippines. Drew also points out: “This year, 70% of the restaurants in the list are helmed by Asian chefs.”

Prior to the awards, an international food summit was held in Singapore, tackling “The New Modern: 2015 and Beyond”. Presentations included Janice Wong’s Pastry Play, Yannick Alléno’s take on the future of French cuisine, Peruvian chefs Gastón Acurio, Virgilio Martínez Véliz, Rafael Piqueras, and Mitsuharu Tsumura and their fresh cultural identity, Gaggan Anand’s avant-garde cuisine in Asia, and Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm and Will Guidara on the birth of a new dining experience. The stellar line-up of foreign chefs also conducted masterclasses alongside Singapore-based chefs.

Special Awards were also presented last night to Vicky Lau, chef-owner of Tate Dining Room & Bar in Hong Kong as the Veuve Clicquot Asia’s Best Female Chef 2015, and the Diner’s Club Lifetime Achievement Award to Tetsuya Wakuda, the chef-owner of Tetsuya and Waku Ghin, for his innovative culinary career.

Anand believes the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list is a good thing. It celebrates Asian food. It motivates chefs. For Anand, securing the top spot in Asia is the motivation to tackle his next project, his food laboratory, which opens in six months.

As Asian cultures evolve, so do their cuisines. Anand, a Kolkata-born chef cooking modern progressive Indian cuisine at the heart Bangkok is an excellent example of diversity in Asian cuisine. His restaurant taking the top spot sends a signal that Asia is ready to celebrate the depth, complexity, and diversity of its cuisine.

Maida Pineda