Just back to Japan from Singapore, where I attended the awards ceremony for the annual Asia's 50 Best Restaurants. This was its third year, but the first under new voting rules*, which meant that there was quite a shake-up in the rankings this time.
Gaggan (in Bangkok) was anointed the new No.1, replacing last year's top-placed Nahm. Big rejoicing for owner/chef/self-styled-culinary-rebel Gaggan Anand!
The number of countries represented was up – Cambodia and the Philippines featured for the first time – with some making a bigger splash than before, especially host Singapore (10 on the list; up from 8) and South Korea (3; from 1).
Conversely, this meant a drop in the number of restaurants from Japan represented on the list (8 down from 10), with Ishikawa and Sawada both mystifyingly dropping out of sight.
Here are the ones that remain in the rankings (last year's positions in parentheses):
Congratulations to one and all, especially to Hajime Yoneda (Hajime), not just as the Highest Climber this year, but for representing Osaka and reminding us there is so much more to dining in Japan than just the restaurants in Tokyo; and to Shinobu Namae (L'Effervescence), for such a strong showing. And – of course – to our two Yokozuna Grand Champions, Yoshihiro Narisawa (Narisawa); and Seiji Yamamoto (Nihonryori RyuGin)!
At the same time, several of the other Top 50 restaurants have direct links to Japan, from Waku Ghin (9th; Tetsuya Wakuda's Singapore operation) and Tenku RyuGin (24th; the Hong Kong outpost of RyuGin) to Shinji by Kanesaka (32nd; Singapore). While others are Japanese in inspiration, such as Wasabi by Morimoto (29th; Mumbai) and Nihonbashi (31st; Colombo).
Meanwhile, there was a massive round of applause for Tetsuya Wakuda for winning the Lifetime Achievement award: Brilliant work!
But for me, the best moment of all was the announcement that Hidemi Sugino had won the title as Asia's Best Pastry Chef. A huge and totally deserved appreciation of the brilliant (and very self-effacing) master pâtissier!
In late January, I was back in Kyoto, this time to attend the Washoku-do symposium, an event — hopefully annual — sponsored by the Japanese government to back the propagation of washoku (Japanese cuisine) around the world.
The event brought together some of Japan’s most revered chefs, including Yoshihiro Murata, of the renowned Kyoto kaisekirestaurant Kikunoi, and Toru Okuda, of Kojyu in Tokyo.
Several top French chefs were also invited, among them Alain Ducasse — who was also one of the judges in the World Washoku Challenge, a cooking competition for non-Japanese chefs.
I managed to speak at some length with Chef Ducasse about the event, about the participating chefs in the cooking competition and about his love of washoku.