Since first launching Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2013, this fifth edition felt familiar but with a few new twists. Gaggan Anand’s eponymous Bangkok restaurant took the top spot for the third year in a row.
Anand admitted to some pre-announcement nerves. “Yes, I’m nervous but I now know the drill. You come to enjoy and meet friends, then it happens.” But after his third consecutive victory, the relieved chef revealed: “After last year’s awards, I changed my team completely and opened the lab. If we had come second or third, then everything I did in 2016 was just wrong. Maybe I was just lucky the first time. The second time, I worked hard. But this time, I really worked hard.” The chef has been juggling the challenging demands of the restaurant, his travels, and being a new father. Anand is also thrilled to see Sühring, the new modern German restaurant he invested in enter the list in 13th spot. “I’m happy I saw their potential,” he says.
For Bali chefs Ray Adriansyah and Eelke Plasmeijer of Locavore, the jump from last year’s 49th to 27 was totally unexpected. “I thought they forgot to call us,” says Adriansyah.
Amid the majority of celebrated male chefs, May Chow, Asia’s Best Female Chef 2017 offers a fresh voice: “I think it’s important for Asian women to have someone to look up to, whom they can relate to. I’m very open and candid about how much money I lost. I think too many chefs just talk about the artistic side of things, but not the hardship,” she says.
“When I was 28, I did not care for any of these awards. I needed to make my restaurants make money, because rent and staff salaries are very high in Hong Kong.” With the success of her Little Bao restaurants and Second Draft Chinese Gastropub plus this award, Chow can now focus on opening an award wining and creative restaurant. In a few weeks, she will open Happy Paradise, describing it as a progressive concept of “cocktail mastery, Neo-Cantonese cuisine, and a loose vibe.”
This year’s awards saw ten new entries to the list. China, Japan, Singapore, and Thailand each have nine restaurants in the list. Notable achievements include TocToc in Seoul for the Miele one to watch, Odette Singapore for the highest new entry, Den Tokyo for the inaugural art of hospitality award Asia, David Pynt for the chef’s choice award, and Umberto Bombana received the Diner’s Club lifetime achievement award.
Chefs can no longer ignore the effect of lists and rankings on their business. “If I ignore it, I’m an idiot. Business is very important,” says Anand. “But in the end, what matters is whether the food in my restaurant is worth the diner’s experience.”