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Front row at the World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards

Noma

When Noma in Copenhagen was anointed No. 1 at the 10th annual World's 50 Best Restaurant Awards ceremony in London, the assembled crowd of world-renowned chefs, journalists and foodies let out a roar. It wasn't a big surprise -- Rene Redzepi and his team pulled top rank last year and the year before.

It took some time for the guys -- and this time, one female with bare, tattooed arms -- to extricate themselves from the tight seating and rush onstage, hugging, forming a chorus line, jumping up and down, making giddy celebration. Redzepi ceded the speech-making duties to Ali Sonko, the dishwasher member of the team who couldn't get a visa to Britain two years ago when Noma got its first win. That night the team ran onstage, pulling on T-shirts with Ali's face imprinted on them so he wouldn't feel left out. This time, Sonko said he was glad to be able to come and thanked everyone simply and gracefully.

American chefs held three positions in the top 10 -- Grant Achatz from Alinea in Chicago (No. 7), Thomas Keller of Per Se at No. 6 and Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park at No. 10. Spain also took three spots in the top 10 with El Celler de Can Roca in Girona at No. 2, Mugaritz in San Sebastian at No. 3 and Arzak in San Sebastian at No. 8.

Even outside before the event, the cameras and videographers were mobbing Ferran Adria (no longer eligible since El Bulli closed) and father-daughter Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak Espina. Massimo Bottura, the three-star Michelin chef from Modena got nearly as much attention, though. His Osteria Francescana came in at No. 5 this year. Only two other Italian restaurants made the list: Le Calandre in Padua at No. 32 and Il Canto in Siena at No. 46.

Keller received the Lifetime Achievement Award, made even sweeter by the fact that the French Laundry (two-time winner of the top restaurant) reentered the list this year (at No. 43). Only Keller and Britain's Heston Blumenthal had double restaurants among the 50 best. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, which opened in 2011, appears on the list for the first time at No. 9.

The list, which is voted on each year by more than 800 food and wine professionals from 29 regions around the world is slowly becoming less Euro-centric. (I am the academy chair for USA West.) This year Mexico had two winners, Pujol in Mexico City took the No. 36 spot, while Biko, also in Mexico City, came in at No. 38. Restaurants from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, Peru also made the cut this year.   

In the 10 years the awards have been given, the list has gotten much more diverse. Still, there are clear favorites from the chefs with restaurants like D.O.M. in Brazil, Astrud y Gaston in Lima and Momofuku Ssam in New York eliciting wolf whistles and/or standing ovations from the crowd. The 50 chefs on the list also vote for their favorite: This year the award went to Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz in San Sebastian.

Unlike the sometimes interminable James Beard Awards in New York, the World's 50 Best Awards keeps a brisk pace, with announcer and TV personality Mark Durden-Smith starting at No. 50 and racing through to No. 1. Except for special awards, like the one for best female chef, Elena Arzak Espina of Arzak, winners stay in their seats. Only the No. 1 restaurant comes onstage and gives a (brief) speech. The whole thing lasts just over an hour. By 10 (or maybe it was earlier?) my phone had decided not to work so I had no camera and no clock. I spotted Durden-Smith and some of the staff noshing on take-out pizza outside the press room. A hard night's work, well done. For the full results of the awards, visit www.theworlds50best.com

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-- S. Irene Virbila

Photo: The Noma staff, including chef Rene Redzepi, front row, far left. Credit: Carl Court  /AFP/Getty Images

 
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