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It probably comes as no surprise that my perspective on food awards is anything but positive. Although I see the benefits they bestow upon those who win, which I am in no way opposed to, I know the system is rigged and at their base these awards hold no weight.

To begin, the idea of an award for something as subjective as food in and of itself is a bit absurd. As we all know each person has a distinct set of desires when it comes to food based on several factors, many of which are engrained from childhood, some of which have been developed in later years based on social interactions, experiences (good or bad), or our own evolution and education. What we develop in this process is often referred to as Taste, even when not directly referencing the deciphering of flavors in the brain, which in a coming post I will dive deeper into, but for now lets focus on the esoteric version of the word as it is most definitely the deciding factor for the awards systems at current.

Taste is probably one of the most intricate and diverse qualities we have as humans, it also has a unique way of being influenced more so than we may understand. One of the most powerful influences over our taste is vision, it is our first interaction with what we are about to put into our mouths and provides the gateway to choice in consumption. Vision can also be deceiving, it can lead us down paths we may not have normally chosen, it can get us to consume things we may not normally, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. As I am sure you have experienced, at some point in your dining tenure, your perception of a place can be sharply shifted upon entrance (or what you have seen prior to entrance) based on its adornment compelling you to the point of accepting faults, even at extremes, because your taste was decided already as soon as your eyes fell inline with the ethos, regardless of what truth it holds.

So what then in an age of digital arrangements that poise those who choose to play the role of story teller at the top of the feed to cast their image upon consumers?

Well, in fact, its not much different than the past, just amplified. The rating systems of current were sparked in the early 1900’s by a tire company looking to sell more tires, creating a guide of stops they would suggest making along routes throughout the French countryside, of course riding on their rubber. An advertisement disguised as a guide, painting pictures through words about what experience you should have and why.

I surely do not believe the founders of this system expected or forecasted what it would become, they were trying to sell more tires, they couldn’t have imagined it would be the footprint for advertising dollars to flow in by awarding those who pay to play?!

Here we fall into present, and the meaning of this entry. Whether it be Michelin, 50Best, James Beard, or Food and Wine the objective of these systems is at face value to award those who excel in the field of food service. They claim to hunt tirelessly for the establishments that exemplify peak performance in their set of criteria. They deploy a staff who travel the world consuming from a list of predetermined candidates, these folks, in some instances, are referred to as taste hunters. The prerequisite for said taste hunters? A love for eating fanciful meals and sharing images and stories about it. No knowledge of culture, food preparation, or service required. Who pays for these extravagant journeys? Advertisers of course.

Spare the off stumbling upon, the majority of the restaurants that are visited on these journeys are restaurants that have received some praise, historically through journalism, which almost certainly ensures that they have had some sort of PR Team working on their behalf. Now this may not be advertising in the traditional sense of the word but it is surely an exchange of currency for the a connection to those who hold the power to impart promotion of a message or concept, said power is given by advertising dollars.

This type of pay to play excludes a significant portion of the speculated 15 million plus restaurants on this planet who either do not have the money to play or choose not to.

What this all boils down to is the same story we hear across the board in many facets of life, the elite will dictate the outcome. While they may not be directly responsible for the decisions of judges or the perception of experience the taste hunters have in qualifying restaurants they most certainly que up the contenders to stand inline for their at bat and set the guidelines through which they must follow in order to be considered.

The truth is there cannot be a best restaurant in the world or even best restaurants in the world for each one of us has that beautiful and unique trait called taste. Like our fingerprint it may hold similarities to others but can never match line for line with another. Its evolution comes by way of journey through new experiences, which if we choose to continue to embark on will ever evolve shifting our perspective endlessly. The fact that no one human can ever in a single lifetime experience every restaurant in the world adds to that impossibility of title, making it even more absurd to read the headlines.

If your truly wish to experience the best of cuisine I believe you must stumble through the hidden corners of every place you visit, chat with the locals, the ones who look a little rough around the edges from a long days work, be inquisitive to culture and try to enter every dining experience with an open mind, embracing what’s presented to you as the choice of the day for those who have welcomed you in and provided your sustenance without pre conceived notions about how it should be, after all, it is their taste.

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