Journalist Andrea Petrini is one of the most influential voices in the culinary world. One of the founders of world’s 50 best restaurants, he’s currently preparing the industry’s first “Oscars”.
He’s one of the most feared men because of his capacity to elevate (or decimate) any restaurant or chef. The Italian Andrea Petrini, alongside English journalist Joe Warwick, created one of the most important distinctions in global cuisine: the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, which elected chef Ferran Adrià’s Catalan eatery El Bulli as best of the bunch in its first year (2002).
Nowadays, he has other things on his mind. While chefs and restaurateurs are still thinking about the 50 list and Michelin stars, Petrini and Warwick now have another concept that promises to be the next big thing: the World Restaurants Awards gala, which will take place at the Hotel de Ville, in Paris, on 18th February, 2019. Andrea explains that he wants to organise “an event like the Oscars or Grammys of the food world, which will include restaurant of the year, creator of the year, enduring classic…”, awards that will most likely be given to different winners each year. In addition to the more traditional categories (“which may be 18, 19 or 17”), the journalist talked about prizes that “are amusing but focus on important issues. The untattooed chef award, an award for the chef who doesn’t use tweezers and one for the chef who is in their restaurant”. Andrea describes this approach as relevant as “it has become more important to have tattoos, be a hipster or hyped than having studied at a culinary school”. Or exchanging the spoon used to taste food for a pair of tweezers “to place this petal or that herb”. Or those chefs that have forgotten “the importance of being in their restaurant and welcoming diners”. Other category areas include environment, innovation, community work, best practice and even best cookbook of the year.
Andrea Petrini underlines that this event is completely different, with lots of new things. A new list that’s “more open, with new chefs and not only the usual, well-known names, but the ones most people are unaware of”. It will be about different types of restaurants, including the “most popular and accessible”. And the idea is to get out of major capitals, like London, Paris and New York, and find out what makes someone travel miles to an out-of-the-way place to eat a certain dish. Petrini wants gender equality, both in terms of the nominations and the judging panel: of the hundred panellists, 54 are men and 46 are women from all over the world, from the USA, Japan or China to Portugal (photographer Paulo Barata and journalist Miguel Pires have been invited), from all continents. The soon-to-be-launched website will feature the panellists’ choices, with a short list of five or six candidates drawn up for the final award at a later stage.
The event “won’t be a new ‘monster’ because it will be interesting for the restaurant business, however, the main beneficiaries will be new restaurants and chefs”. The event, which will be broadcast globally, is based in Paris for the first three years, but Petrini would like to organise the awards in Los Angeles, one day.
“Professional traveller” could be Andrea’s middle name. Resident in France, he spent time in Lisbon and the Alentejo in June. A week later he was in London preparing for an event, and then in Italy for a new project in Rimini with various chefs, including Massimo Bottura – chef at Osteria Francescana, the world’s best restaurant in 2018 (3 Michelin stars). He took a holiday in Greece and spent time in Colombia in August, where he cooked and wrote about local chefs. A symposium in Copenhagen, another in Helsinki, September in Rio de Janeiro and October in Los Angeles. Although he’d rather travel less, Andrea never takes fewer than two or three trips a month.
It was his French wife who convinced him to live in Lyon, and now he wouldn’t swap it for any other. “It’s contemporary and close to everything, cultural and artistic scenes with the added advantage of being close to all the countries of Europe”, he says. When he arrived in France, he wrote primarily about films, music and literature, and food was more a passion. He recalls that, until recently, gastronomy didn’t feature in serious newspapers. Over the years, he started to write for guides and the specialist press, and now it makes up around 90% of his work. He also writes books and is the road manager of a workshop-performance-meeting-event project called GELINAZ!, where over 80 chefs share gastronomic languages and knowledge, combining food, contemporary art and performances. It all began in 2005 with chef Massimo Bottura and takes place once or twice a year. He explains that “it’s not commercial”, because that takes time and money. “It’s a full-time job”, he adds.
Petrini remembers when there was nothing glamorous about cooks, “they were fat, old, never left the kitchen and didn’t study”, and when Ferran Adrià came top of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2002 it “caused a stir”. “A Spanish chef, experimental cuisine, he wasn’t French but has won the prize.” He recalls the list having “a huge economic impact and put unknown chefs on the map”, making “chefs big stars, such as Alex Atala, René Redzepi, David Chang, and Virgilio Martínez. However, I also created a monster”. Nowadays, there are chefs on the list “who aren’t in the kitchen, who spend most of their time travelling from event to event, from São Paulo to Singapore”.
Andrea lived in the Italian town of Ancona until he was 12 and then somewhere close to Rome. However, it was only when he was a student (literature and philosophy) that he started to notice the difference between the same dishes at different restaurants. Since then, his curiosity has been unfettered. When not travelling, he tries to cook simple, healthy things, unless he has friends round. He likes cooking but would never have a restaurant. Eleven years ago, in Lyon, Marseille and Paris, they asked non-chefs to set up a pop-up restaurant at home. In his case, it involved six days of performance and his own menu.
He recently visited Portugal to attend a gastronomic event in the Alentejo. He praises the many first-class restaurants, like the tradition of cod, the charcuterie, the pork. In terms of the wine, he recognises its quality but thinks that “the reds are a bit strong”. “The way forward might be less structure, more natural and lighter”.
The future of gastronomy is uncertain, but for Petrini “this bubble is going to burst and there will be many casualties”. The constellation of stars who left their restaurants, who stopped cooking, signalled a revolution, but, in the future, “perhaps within three or four years, there will be less excess of personalities and publicity”. Andrea believes that fine dining restaurants are nearing their sell-by date. Currently “customers book the restaurant three or four months ahead, they can’t choose what they want because there’s the tasting menu, they can’t choose the wine because there’s a wine pairing and they just get their wallet out and pay”.
by Augusto Freitas de Sousa /// photo Paulo Barata
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