When the braintrust behind the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants set up "The Academy" - a bloc of almost 1,000 voters made up of chefs, journalists, restaurateurs and industry insiders - in 2005, the motive, ostensibly, was to instill a sheen of credibility.
A tweet today by Montreal Gazette restaurant critic Lesley Chesterman, however, casts doubts on the objectivity of the list seen by some as the most important and influential in the food world.
Yes, it seems Eleven Madison Park, which recently rose a notch in the 2014 World's 50 Best list to occupy the number four spot, threw a lunch for voters last summer in conjunction with S. Pellegrino and the World's 50 Best brass.
The fact that The New York Times critic Pete Wells, himself no fan of the list, saw fit to chime in underscores the gravity of the inherent quid pro quo.
World's 50 Best judges can only vote for restaurants they ate at over the past 18 months. Events like the one at Eleven Madison Park last June help make this happen.
While Chesterman - no longer a judge herself - did not attend the multi-course lunch in New York City, another prominent Montreal critic, Marie-Claude Lortie, herself a World's 50 Best voter who was in London for the big ceremony on Monday and who has more than one La Presse article about chef Daniel Humm under her belt, did.
The apparent problem of accountability with the World's 50 Best Restaurants list is not new. As Marina O'Loughlin tersely observed in The Guardian this week:
The world's 50 best polarises industry observers. There are those of us who look at it askance, questioning how all these "impartial" judges have scored reservations at some of the world's hardest-to-book tables, managing to finance the travel and restaurant bills themselves. Then there are the chefs and restaurateurs who take the whole thing insanely seriously. Well, they would, wouldn't they? A place at the top is excellent for business. And, in a very real sense, chefs don't get out much.